ST. LOUIS—Since 1996, GirlTrek has focused its energy on the health of black and brown girls and women, motivating them to create change in their health and community through fitness and friendship. Newfound friends Lisa Garrett, Lowry Finley-Jackson and Towina Jones are doing just that. They’re making strides around the St. Louis region under the national organization GirlTrek, walking for freedom of health and sisterhood.
“I like to walk, and I like to meet people, and for me GirlTrek has opened up a whole new group of sisters I didn’t even know. It has allowed us to bond,” said local GirlTrekker Lowry Finley-Jackson.
Finley-Jackson said she is walking for her health, something she has always done. Considering the times we live in, getting other black women involved might seem pretty radical.
Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison started GirlTrek in Los Angeles in the mid-90s. The two friends bonded over music, fitness and health, and through their walks around the community, GirlTrek was born. They challenged black and brown neighborhoods to heal their bodies and minds with 30 minutes of cardio every day.
Lisa Garrett said she signed up for GirlTrek’s St. Louis chapter in 2012. She saw the group on Facebook and joined because they were doing exercises she found interest in, including hiking, walking and running.
Finely-Jackson said, “We walk all over St. Louis. We just don’t pick one place to walk. We walk in North County, Forest Park and Downtown. We have a Facebook page, and we post on there where we are going to meet. You just look for that post and just jump in.”
The trio said the longest walk they have done under the GirlTrek organization is 8.2 miles, walking from Ferdinand Park to Sunset Park near the river bluff by Florrissant in North County.
Finley-Jackson said, “If there is pavement, we are going to walk.”
But Saturdays are for heroes. In honor of “Superhero Saturday,” GirlTrekkers wear electric blue GirlTrek t-shirts when they go on their walks. The t-shirts have a graphic design of Harriet Tubman, the organization’s number one GirlTrekker. Jones said it’s bright, it’s bold, it’s an attention getter and a conversation starter. Strangers will walk up to them inquiring about what GirlTrek is.
“It’s [the t-shirts] all things this movement represents. We are resilient. We are out here. We want you to see us. We are not just alive, but we are thriving. And helping others too,” said Jones. Jones said parading the GirlTrek t-shirt will usually spark a conversation, giving her an opportunity to explain what the movement is about.
They consider themselves Tubman’s daughters.
Building a Healthy Future
Jones considers herself a flourishing breast cancer survivor. She lives in southeast Missouri in the Portageville area but is connected to the St. Louis chapter of GirlTrek. Jones said she jumped into the movement after her diagnosis.
“GirlTrek is all about saving your own life first, putting the oxygen mask on yourself first. Everyday when I lace up my shoes I’m saying, ‘I’m important. I need to be here,’” said Jones.
Jones said she is committed to 30 minutes of cardio workout everyday, that she is living her best life by hitting the pavement because she knows that’s keeping her alive.
According to the For the Sake of All Report, nearly 50 percent of African-Americans in both St. Louis County and City are obese. The report also highlights that close to 40 percent of African-Americans in both the city and county do not exercise during their free time.
“We [black women] don’t take care of ourselves first. We are dying from diabetes, heart failure and high blood pressure. Just by walking or doing something physical for 30 minutes will help alleviate some of these risks,” said Finley-Jackson.
It’s All About the Sisterhood
GirlTrek isn’t just about walking for your health. For these ladies it’s about building a sisterhood. One of their “sisters” had a fear of bridges, and the group decided to help her conquer that fear by walking across the Eads Bridge. Finely-Jackson said it was raining cats and dogs that day, but they couldn’t let the rain stop them from helping their fellow trekker.
“It was raining so hard, it was raining sideways, and she wanted to stop but we didn’t let her; and when we crossed that bridge we were soaked and wet. Then we went to Sweet Art and had breakfast to celebrate,” said Finley-Jackson.
Crossing the Eads Bridge with their “sister” gave them joy, and it made them glad to be able to encourage her to conquer her fears.
The GirlTrek organization has over 100,000 members, and their goal is to have 1 million members by 2020. However, the trio believes there are more members than the organization has counted, but many of them haven’t officially signed up. They stressed that it is super important to officially sign up so that each person can be counted.
“It has become a family. It really is a sisterhood. I love this movement,” said Jones.
For more information visit the GirlTrek website at https://www.girltrek.org/.