RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
You can learn a lot by taking a walk. Over the past decade, a Black women's health organization called GirlTrek has organized walking teams in hundreds of cities and towns across the country. Members have retraced Harriet Tubman's path to freedom and the routes walked by women during the bus boycotts of the 1950s. While social distancing is in effect, they're lacing up their sneakers and heading out again, this time on a new journey that connects Black women with history and each other. Allyson McCabe brings us their story.
ALLYSON MCCABE, BYLINE: As Iresha Picot sets out on her daily walk, she pops in her earbuds, and she's connected with tens of thousands of other Black women.
IRESHA PICOT: I could be taking my walk in Philadelphia, and with one hashtag, I'm connected to women who are doing these walks all over.
MCCABE: That hashtag is #blackhistorybootcamp, a 21-day walking meditation to honor the foremothers of Black women's history. It's led by GirlTrek, the nation's largest health organization for Black women and girls. Here's a bit of what it sounds like.
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MORGAN DIXON: Welcome, sisters. My name is Morgan Dixon. This is my dear friend Vanessa Garrison. We invite you today to Black History Boot Camp, which is a walk in the footsteps of the women who walked before us. It is an acknowledgement that we walk in the footsteps of women who made a way out of no way and that we have a blueprint for self-care and survival like no other. And we intend to claim that legacy.
MCCABE: Every weekday morning, GirlTrek sends out an email with a story of a freedom fighter. The email includes playlists, meditation prompts and a phone number. As women walk, they can call into a live discussion like this one about the poet and activist Audre Lorde.
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VANESSA GARRISON: We better start to spend time with ourselves. And then we better start to ask ourselves, where do we fit in, not just individually with my care, but how does my care fit in with this collective? And how do we advance it together? That is, I believe, how we honor Audre Lorde's kind of radical self-care moment. I'm going to take care of myself so that I can also get in the fight.
MCCABE: In New Jersey, Valerie Francois and her daughter are listening to Audre Lorde's story together.
VALERIE FRANCOIS: I was just really curious to hear about how she resonated with the movement and how she took care of herself because I was very emotional about what's happening, not just with the pandemic, but then how it rolled into the racial issues being at the forefront again and the police brutality. And I thought this could really overwhelm me.
MCCABE: Valerie's daughter, Victoria, says she was moved to seek out more of Lorde's writings.
VICTORIA FRANCOIS: I took it upon myself to read "The Uses of Anger," which is one of her pieces that really helped me just try to process all the feelings that I was having.
MCCABE: In Atlanta, Erica Sutton says she finds hope in the stories of Black women of past generations and how they endured.
ERICA SUTTON: You're able to personally connect with their struggle, with their form of resilience, with their form of resistance, saying, this is what we're going to do to continue to fight and sustain. And it just gives me such an inspiring sense of motivation.
MCCABE: GirlTrek's co-founder Morgan Dixon says walking has proven health benefits, but that's only one component of the organization's overall wellness mission.
DIXON: We're not walking enthusiasts. The reason we chose walking is because we look to our history to figure out what has been the most effective way that Black women have organized. And the most effective way that we've organized is in our everyday lives, is to create a lifestyle out of social change. We knew that when women walked and talked together, everything changed.
MCCABE: GirlTrek says Black History Boot Camp started out with about 20,000 sign-ups. In the past two weeks, it's grown to nearly 95,000. For NPR News, I'm Allyson McCabe.
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