While many of us are just starting our day, a group of women is starting its 6 miles toward wellness at 6 a.m. Members of the GirlTrek Kennesaw walking group meet during the week at Swift-Cantrell Park in Kennesaw as a part of their commitment to self-care, healthy lifestyles and fostering their relationships with family and friends. Their activities and inspiration were honored by Kennesaw Mayor Derek Easterling through a proclamation declaring July 18, 2022, as GirlTrek Kennesaw Day. The proclamation noted their actions have earned the admiration of others and highlighted what an asset Swift-Cantrell Park is to the city. Easterling also said the women represent the ideals of the city through their example of healthy living.
The local GirlTrek group started in 2019, when Judy Mitchell-Clonts and Angela Kilgore began walking as a way of getting healthy and moving through the grief of losing two of their loved ones. What started as a group of four sisters and their niece, Urshula Roberts-Jackson, has grown into a larger group of eight women, ages 45 to 70-plus, who are connecting and finding joy.
Before the women started walking three years ago, they noticed they were gaining weight as they navigated the difficult path through their grief, which motivated them to do something. Through their consistency in movement, they’ve reported lower blood pressure, reduced waist sizes and fewer medications. They use their time together to catch up on each other’s lives and talk about God, family and relationships, among other things.
The members have developed a strong sense of accountability and have made 6-mile walks their daily standard, and they’re considering walking up to 7 miles a few times in September. Jacqlyn Charles said if a walker is able to do only 4 miles with the group, she makes up the rest at some point during the day. “It doesn’t matter when or how you start; just take that first walk,” she said.
The group was going strong before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, adding complications to the walkers’ usual routine. Now in 2022, the members are finding their stride again and building momentum by getting out during the week to walk. Their dedication to walking also has led to more healthy habits, such as improving their diet and incorporating weight training into their exercise plan. Jacqlyn created a Facebook group, GirlTrek Kennesaw, for posting photos and sharing their progress. This helps create visual motivation for others to get up and get moving.
Jacqlyn said this group has been a blessing to her and the community. The members’ bond is strong, and others have noticed. “We are meeting people from diverse backgrounds, while walking in the park, who are telling us how inspiring we are,” she said, noting she’s looking forward to the group bringing in more women.
Birth of a National Movement
GirlTrek was founded in 2010 in Los Angeles by two friends, T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, with the mission of encouraging Black women to walk as a radical act of self-care and community healing. Just 30 minutes a day has proven health benefits, and this daily act has been transformative globally. In 2020, GirlTrek reached 1 million members who walk to improve their health, and two years later, that number has grown to more than 1.3 million.
Research has shown Black women are at a higher risk for chronic conditions, but this initiative is making a difference. According to a 2019 GirlTrek survey, members have self-reported weight loss, decreased symptoms of depression, less prescription medications and consistency in walking five days a week for at least 30 minutes a day for more than a year. Women can choose to walk solo in their neighborhoods or join a larger group in their area.
No matter how they choose to get in their steps, they are never alone, as GirlTrek is a sisterhood. The larger network of women trekking in the Atlanta area always is willing to help connect women to other walkers in the community. GirlTrek also provides training for crew leaders — women who lead others on walks in their neighborhood and offer support through national, state and regional coaches.
For information on joining the largest health movement for Black women and to find local events and groups, visit www.girltrek.org.
– Nicole Smith is a public health professional living in Kennesaw with her epic houseplant collection and two senior dogs, Jax and Lily Grace.