Radical Daily Action with GirlTrek

What if lacing up your sneakers weren’t just an exercise habit, but a radical political act? That’s the premise of GirlTrek—the movement to help Black women and girls reclaim their health and their communities through a daily habit of walking.

We sit down with Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, the co-founders of GirlTrek—the largest public health nonprofit for Black women and girls—to talk about reclaiming space for rest and health, what it means to take daily walks in the steps of a Civil Rights legacy, and why Black women making s’mores in the mountains of Colorado is actually a tiny act of rebellion.

The most radical thing any woman can do, and particularly a black woman, is to slow her ass down. Slow down, stop running for other people’s praise. Stop running for other people’s approval. Slow down.

—Morgan Dixon, cofounder, GirlTrek

On the agenda:

  • Why GirlTrek’s annual Stress Protest is a life-changing experience. “We are having a genuine spiritual experience on the top of a mountain that is fueled by the truth-telling of Black women who come there and vocalize that they are hurting, and then commit to claim space for themselves and their family.”
  • How GirlTrek is creating a workplace that’s not built on hustle. “We have an offseason every year. That’s an annual sabbatical, essentially, that our entire team takes.”
  • Why Black women particularly need self-care. “Two-thirds of black women engage in little to no leisure time physical activity…because we don’t have any leisure time. That’s why we don’t exercise on our leisure time, because we don’t have any leisure time.”
  • How Harriet Tubman’s legacy inspires GirlTrek today. “She literally walked herself to freedom and saved her own life… And then she went back over and over again to get friends and family, which is what GirlTrek does.”

Plus: We’re in love with the idea of a company offseason. Fellesferie, 2020 y’all.

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Transcript

Sara Wachter-Boettcher: 00:00 Do you want to keep projects running smoothly, get invoices paid, and make sure your team is on track? Then you need Harvest, the tool for time-tracking project planning, and workload forecasting. Ninety-eight percent of customers say they’d recommend Harvest, and I’m one of them. Check them out at getharvest.com/strongfeelings for your free trial. And when you sign up for a paid account, you’re going to get 50% off your first month. That’s getharvest.com/strongfeelings. [Theme music plays for 11 seconds and then fades out.]

SWB: 00:38 Hey everyone, I’m Sara.

Katel LeDû: 00:39 And I’m Katel.

SWB: 00:40 And this is Strong Feelings, a podcast about work, friendship, and feminism—and what happens when you bring them all together.

KL: 00:46 Today we are talking to Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison. They’re the co-founders of GirlTrek, the largest public health nonprofit for Black women and girls. And we heard about them from our friend Malaika who went to their annual event called the GirlTrek Stress Protest, which definitely made our ears perk up.

SWB: 01:03 Oh my God. Stress Protest! We’re going to let you hear all about it from them, but before we get to that interview, I do want to talk about, Oh, one thing that they bring up in the interview. They mentioned that at GirlTrek they have a company offseason. And my heart just stopped when I heard them say this word. It’s like, yeah, offseason.

KL: 01:22 Yeah.

SWB: 01:22 It’s an annual sabbatical that everyone in the company takes at the same time. And it was like a light bulb went off in my head when I heard it. I was like, that is such a brilliant idea. An offseason!

KL: 01:30 It is an amazing idea. Like the concept of collective rest.

SWB: 01:36 Yes, yes, yes. And I feel like, you know, in other places like my German family, they have more of that concept built into their culture. Right. Like the idea of fucking off to Italy for an entire month in the middle of the summer to, you know, hang out in the mountains or at the beach or at a lake or whatever is so normalized.

KL: 01:55 Yeah.

SWB: 01:55 It’s very typical. Like most of your office is gone. Basically everybody is gone for an entire month at some point between June and August, but I feel like in the U S that is just not true. People do not have that kind of vacation time and when people talk about taking a sabbatical here, it’s a huge deal and it’s definitely not something people tend to do annually and it’s definitely not considered business as usual in most companies.

KL: 02:21 Yeah, no. I have a few friends who have taken sabbatical at some point in their life, but it wasn’t because it was offered to them. They made plans with their employers to take paid leave, or if they couldn’t do that, they figured out how to take unpaid time off from work and it’s like they just made it sort of cobbled together.

SWB: 02:38 And I think that’s the difference, right? It’s almost always this very individual process of figuring out how you’re going to cobble together the different things that you need. Like I’ll take my two weeks of paid vacation, take a week of unpaid leave, and then I can add this personal day and they do it over that three day weekend. Then I can get, you know, and then it’s also really hard then to be able to do it. Like for a lot of people I know they don’t really take a sabbatical until they’re super fucking burned out and feel like they can’t go on.

KL: 03:07 Uh huh.

SWB: 03:07 Where it’s like almost, like, necessary. And they often end up having to do something like quit a job and have enough money saved up to be able to do it.

SWB: 03:16 Which of course means it’s only open to a tiny fraction of people who are able to have that kind of privilege to do it. And it’s not something that’s just like typical normal and supported, culturally or at a company level.

KL: 03:28 Yeah, no, I mean I’ve never been in an environment where that was available and I never even considered it until recently.

SWB: 03:37 Uh huh.

KL: 03:37 Sara, I feel like I should announce it. I still kind of can’t believe I get to say the words, but I am taking a sabbatical during the entire month of December.

SWB: 03:46 I love it so much. So excited for your sabbatical. A little jealous, mostly excited.

KL: 03:52 [Laughs] Well and you were really instrumental in this happening because maybe a month ago we were co-working and we started talking about it. We were doing some planning and I think I said, “what if I take December off from A Book Apart?” But it turned into, “maybe I need to take time off from everything.” And you were like, “okay, if you want to make this happen, you got to start putting it into motion now.” And that was so helpful because one, it made it feel much more real than a “what if?” Kind of thought. And two, you were saying, “look, I support you now. How can we make this happen?”

SWB: 04:26 Yeah. I just knew when you were talking about it that if you waited, it would just seem less and less possible, because it would feel like there were too many reasons not to, too many barriers. Too many like open threads, right? Like you wouldn’t be able to feel like you could just shut the door and everything all of a sudden. And so it’s like, okay, let’s make it happen by making it happen now.

KL: 04:47 Yeah, no, that’s so true. So I started planning and I’m still preparing a little, but I’m really excited and actually my first gut feeling was excitement when I decided to really do it, and then immediately that turned into guilt.

SWB: 05:01 Oh yeah. Like all of those feelings of like, “Oh, do I really even deserve this?” And “how can I do this when other people have to work?”

KL: 05:09 Oh yeah, definitely. And I’m still kind of working through those feelings. I mean, taking a sabbatical isn’t normal in our country, like you said. And frankly I’ve worked at a lot of places where there wasn’t just a shitty vacation policy, but you were actively judged for taking any significant time.

SWB: 05:29 Yesssss.

KL: 05:29 Yeah. And I think some of the coming to terms is acknowledging that I don’t have a lot of experience or context feeling like it’s okay to take time off and that I can do it without feeling guilt. And I also recognize that I am extremely privileged to be able to take a month off of work without a financial hit. That is something I’m really aware of. So there’s guilt and there’s also some anxiety because I don’t want to leave my team at A Book Apart or you in the lurch and I don’t want things I’ve been working on to suffer because I’m like taking my foot off the gas

SWB: 05:58 Mmm. Mmmhmmm. And in my experience you’re also somebody who really likes to be helpful. You know, you jump in really easily and I think about this a lot because you’re a great friend, you’re a wonderful friend, but that is not the only reason why definitely at least 87 people have asked you to be their bridesmaids. Like part of that is also because people know that you’re ready to help and take on tasks and you will jump up and say, “Oh no problem. I’ll handle it for almost anything.” Sometimes maybe at your own expense.

KL: 06:27 No, that, but yeah, I mean, I don’t know if you see that movie 27 Dresses was based on me [laughter].

SWB: 06:33 Oh my God.

KL: 06:33 I have many, many bridesmaid dresses.

SWB: 06:34 But that movie is a few years old, so it’s more than 27 now. [Laughter]

KL: 06:40 Exactly. But I also felt some anxiety earlier on because I had this feeling of like, “okay, how can I make this time off as productive as possible? How can I get the most out of it?”

SWB: 06:52 Mmmm. Go on.

KL: 06:52 And so I talked to a few people who were like, “or what if it’s not productive at all, and you just rest and recoup?” And I realized that that’s okay too. I did decide to make a plan for December and it’s not a schedule but more of a roadmap of how I want to spend that time, which is actually making feel a lot less anxious.

SWB: 07:12 Yeah, I like that idea of a roadmap focused on rejuvenation. Because I think it’s also a matter of, you are redefining what success looks like for that time, and your typical markers of success, like tasks completed and things out the door, projects shipped, whatever—those are not what success looks like. And so getting yourself out of that mindset is maybe what people are trying to help you do when they’re like, productive is not maybe what you’re aiming for.

KL: 07:38 Right. That is very true.

SWB: 07:40 Okay. So how did you actually manifest the sabbatical? Like what did you do logistically?

KL: 07:44 I actually started by feeling out our marketing lead and our managing editor at A Book Apart. I asked them what they thought, and would that feel overwhelming to them. And unsurprisingly they are wonderful. And they were like, “oh hell yeah, do this, how can we help?” Which definitely made me feel more settled and I started to think, “okay, I’m going to have more formal conversations with the partners and everyone on the team and really start to put this into motion.” And that also made me feel kind of excited about talking with my team about planning for it together, because I realized that I think I’ve generally been creating an environment where my colleagues feel like they can take the lead on things. But now we’ve also been having conversations about folks taking on more ownership. And this makes me so happy. I mean I’m kind of bummed it took me this long to have that realization. But I don’t want this to just be about me delegating tasks for a month while I’m away. I think there’s this huge opportunity for folks to take ownership of things and…keep it. When I come back in January I want to help develop and empower that ownership.

SWB: 08:52 Yeah. We’ve talked about this before where it’s like the CEO but you also are tracking inventory and I do think that getting to a place where less of your brain is occupied by, “how many copies of this title do we have on hand?” is a really good plan for next year.

KL: 09:07 Yeah, definitely. And I was a little nervous to bring it up with my partners because I wanted to be really clear and honest about what I needed and I debated on whether I should like, call a meeting or send a note. And that’s mainly because we’re so small. I’m the only full-time employee and we’ve just never had this discussion before. So I decided on sending an email to my two partners and our accountant laying out that I wanted to take a month of paid leave off in December, and I have a plan for how I’m going to make it happen. And I know that this is the first time this has come up, so let’s definitely talk about it. If it feels like it warrants a discussion. And in my mind it was super important that I be explicit about saying that taking time off was something that I really needed, that I had already been working on a plan to make it happen, and that I wasn’t just taking a vacation where, you know, I am usually like checking in on things.

SWB: 09:59 I really liked that you weren’t just saying that, “Oh, this is a vacation.” Because that would set an expectation that it’s very temporary, that it’s this sort of—I mean, I know a month isn’t even that long—

KL: 10:11 No.

SWB: 10:11 Frankly, no, it’s just barely long enough. But I do think it’s a different category of thing where you’re off.

KL: 10:18 Right.

SWB: 10:18 You’re out, you’re fully mentally disengaged. And I also really liked that you were going to them and saying, “I’m going to make this happen.” Not so much like, “Hey, what if, I was kind of thinking?”

KL: 10:30 Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I mean I’m in a pretty good situation where I didn’t necessarily anticipate pushback or concern, but like I mentioned, I also included our accountant on that email because I knew there might be questions around financial impact or those kinds of considerations. But you know, I had answers and a plan and ultimately I felt really confident in that approach because what I was presenting felt incredibly reasonable and doable.

SWB: 10:55 And they were just like, okay, great?

KL: 10:58 Yeah, I mean they were extremely supportive, so it was good.

SWB: 11:02 So now that it’s happening and you’re really getting into that planning mode and the final few weeks before you take the sabbatical, what does that look like?

KL: 11:11 I mean, one very helpful factor is the time of year. Actually for the past few years now we’ve closed the ABA quote “office” for a winter break from December 24th through January 1st. We don’t launch anything after Thanksgiving. We’re generally winding things down for the year, and a lot of folks everywhere are taking time off for the holiday. So it feels like mentally a good good time. And I mentioned that I’ve been working with folks on my team to take the lead on all the critical stuff. But you were right when we talked last month. It takes time to set that stuff up and make sure people feel confident. And we also have a tiered communications plan.

SWB: 11:48 Sounds very formal.

KL: 11:50 [Laughter] Yeah, feels very official. And essentially that means is like if something goes wrong or an issue arises, the team can and should just handle it. And if there’s consensus among the main points of contact that an issue can’t be resolved and that I should know about it, or if it’s something super dire, then they’ll call me. But I don’t have to proactively check in.

SWB: 12:09 That is really important.

KL: 12:11 Yeah.

SWB: 12:11 You’re not owning the responsibility of things being on track. They come to you if they need something.

KL: 12:18 Yeah.

SWB: 12:18 Yeah, I like that a lot.

KL: 12:19 So, whew. It’s a lot to organize, but I’m really glad we’re doing this because I hope other people on the team might consider taking a sabbatical at some point. You know, I hope I’m modeling something. It’s just so wild how little we talk about and value the benefits of something like a sabbatical in this country. I started digging around trying to find companies who were doing anything resembling extended paid leave. And it’s really bleak.

SWB: 12:45 Mmm. Mmmhmm.

KL: 12:45 Yeah. Like at most companies where it’s offered, it’s not even that much, you know, it’s maybe it’s four weeks, like you said, a month is not even that long. And employees have to work there for 10 years before even accessing it.

SWB: 12:56 That’s such a long time.

KL: 12:57 It’s so long. And even more progressive companies who offer it sooner still require you to be there for five to seven years and have full-time employment that long.

SWB: 13:06 Yeah. You know, I know a few people who’ve taken sabbaticals through work, but again, mostly it’s this really individual thing to do. And I also know people who’ve taken academic sabbaticals, including my mom and my brother. And that might sound like a big break, like oh, it’s a whole semester or sometimes like a whole year off. It’s much more complicated than that, because usually when you’re taking a sabbatical as an academic, it’s because you’re doing some big research collaboration. Or in the humanities it’s like you get half salary for a year, but you have to write a book and if you don’t write the book and publish it, then you’re not going to get tenure. Like it is not a break really. It’s like a different work style for that time period. But it is not time off.

KL: 13:46 No, it’s not. Like you said, there’s still work and responsibility involved there and it’s that time is not wholly your own, so you’re not like disconnecting.

SWB: 13:54 Right, right. And you know, I mentioned family in Germany really normalizing those longer breaks and you don’t taking a month off every summer being totally chill and normal. In addition to that, my uncle was talking once about how at Volkswagen, where he works, you can even have your email turned off while you’re on vacation. Can you imagine?

KL: 14:13 God.

SWB: 14:14 So imagine you go camping for a month and you come back and there are no new messages.

KL: 14:20 I can’t. Like, that just made my armpits sweat.

SWB: 14:24 It’s incredible. I just blew my mind. That of course is not just Germany though, right? Like that’s all over Europe. It’s really common. Like in Norway, the entire month of July, people all get out of the city and they go to lake houses, they go to the ocean, and they have a name for it. They call it Fellesferie.

KL: 14:45 Oo.

SWB: 14:45 Which means like a joint holiday or a collective holiday.

KL: 14:49 Uhhh…Collective rest!

SWB: 14:51 Right, exactly right. Like this concept is so important and I love it so much and I think it’s time we should listen to Vanessa and Morgan from GirlTrek, but I want to commit right now to this idea of collective rest and the idea of an offseason. So 2020, we’re taking an offseason—from everything.

KL: 15:10 Let’s do it.

SWB: 15:10 [short transition music plays]

Interview: Vanessa Garrison and Morgan Dixon

SWB: 15:13 Vanessa Garrison and Morgan Dixon are the cofounders of GirlTrek, the largest health nonprofit for Black women and girls. Through their work with GirlTrek, they’ve met Michelle Obama. They’ve starred in an REI ad campaign. And most importantly, they’ve helped hundreds of thousands of GirlTrek members build healthier lives. Vanessa, Morgan, welcome to Strong Feelings.

Vanessa Garrison: 15:31 Thank you for having us.

KL: 15:33 So first up, can you share more about GirlTrek? You know, what is it and why does it matter for Black women and girls?

VG: 15:40 GirlTrek is a beautiful, vibrant grassroots movement that is galvanizing a million Black women across the country every single day to reclaim their health and communities through a daily habit of walking and organizing in the steps of a Civil Rights legacy. It’s a sisterhood. It’s a shared agreement amongst Black women to practice self care. It’s a radical daily action against the oppressive things that are killing Black women every day. It’s also the brainchild of myself and Morgan, who’s been my friend for more than 20 years in a personal way for us to heal from the trauma that we have experienced as Black women. In our families and in this country.

KL: 16:22 Yeah. Vanessa, you’ve been quoted as saying, “we are not a workout group. We are an army of women who are sick and tired of being sick and tired.” And I’d love to dig into that further. What do people miss when they reduce GirlTrek to just being about workout?

VG: 16:37 One, they missed the root causes of the disease crisis that’s killing Black women and they make it reductive to this idea that if we just got physically active and we just started eating better, then we would be totally healed and that’s not correct. Because the root causes of what are killing Black women are not necessarily just a lack of exercise and diet. It’s rooted in so much more. And so our solution is powerful and it’s effective because we really get in and grab at those roots and we address the real experiences that Black women are having in this country and we provide them with a simple solution where they can be the change-makers in their own lives and communities.

SWB: 17:14 Yeah. It’s interesting too to hear you talk about sort of the connection between what you do with GirlTrek and the Civil Rights movement and sort of walking in that legacy. And I’m curious if you can talk a little bit more about that. So when you talk about it, you know, it’s not just about working out, it is about really connecting with what is actually going wrong for Black women and girls and it’s connecting with this legacy of Civil Rights. Like what does that mean for you?

Morgan Dixon: 17:35 The personal is political is really appropriate here because Vanessa and I started GirlTrek while we were working in an investment banking firm in Beverly Hills, California. We were, you know, to of few Black people there, and certainly women, and definitely had a fraction of the money than any of the people were making there. So it was like, you remember Richard Gere in Pretty Woman? Everybody was like Richard Gere [laughter]. We were just like, what is happening in this world? I didn’t even know there was that much money in the world. And so part of what the spirit of GirlTrek started in the spirit of our friendship at work and we were like, we better find for our lives here because this is a setup for a takedown. We’re working so hard, we’re trying to go to school full-time, work full-time because we have to pay for school. And in doing so, like I didn’t even know people were making this much money in the world. It was crazy. And so it was like the kind of the injustice was right in our face every day, both on a racial level where, you know, the people who were mail deliverers were Latino. The people who were doing tech were African American men mostly. The people who were investment bankers were mostly white men. The researchers and secretaries were mostly women. It was a trip, right? And so we were, Vanessa and I connected in that environment. Like, listen, everything in your family history has told you that you are going to die an early death. Right. For both of us. And everything in our day-to-day lives tells us that we won’t see justice in this lifetime. So we can fall for the, okey doke, work our asses off and still kind of get the scraps of life, or we can go out in the direction of our healthiest, most fulfilled life and go for it, right? So we started to do that as friends and people thought we were insane. Like I started backpacking—I’m a Black, I’m an actual real from Wichita, Kansas, circa Mississippi, Black woman. Vanessa, I don’t know, she is from Seattle [laughter]. I’m sorry, Vanessa, but I’m just saying, like, ain’t nobody in our families hiking. Ain’t nobody in our families backpacking or running half marathons or anything. So we started doing stuff that just built us up and made us joyful. And what we realized is we kept getting pulled back into the rigors of racism, into the heartache and trauma of day-to-day lives being a Black woman. And it became almost the dishes that we went after. Joy. And so started looking at the women who inspired us in Black history. They were women on the front lines of change. And those women, many of those women died prematurely, like Fannie Lou Hamer, like died at 59 years old, from literally carrying too much weight on her back of the world. Literally heart disease, breast cancer, all of the things that come from carrying too much stress and weight, and died prematurely. And so we made a pact between each other that we would not swallow the rage, that every single thing we did would be radical acts of self care and healing of justice. And so that is the connection—that Black women had been on the front lines of America’s problem on race for too long. And that if we are to set our own paths to live our best lives, it looks like referencing the tools and the mindset of women who fought for change, and who walk together and talk together and made solutions together. And it means making sure that we have an end goal that is healthy, that is fulfilled, that is exciting, that is joyful, that is satisfying, not sad. You understood what I mean? So that, I think, that’s where the connection came in.

SWB: 21:20 Yeah. And I really love when you talk about this idea of radical acts of self care and saying that it is okay for you to go in the direction of joy, and it is okay for you to go out and get into nature, even though that might be what people don’t expect of you. And on that note, I’d love to ask a little bit about one of your kind of signature events, the GirlTrek Stress Protest, which we know about because one of our friends, Malaika, who is wonderful, went to it with her mom, had an amazing time, talked about being in the Colorado mountains, you know, going horseback riding and having campfires. And those are things that I think are not, you’ve kind of alluded to this, not afforded to a lot of Black women and girls and not necessarily seen as sort of like your territory, maybe. And I’m curious how you came to put that event together and to say like, no, we’re going to stake a claim to this and make this ours too.

MD: 22:11 Yeah. I don’t know if we, if we, if we sought out to make Colorado ours. I’m kidding. Shout out to Colorado.

SWB: 22:21 It’s a complicated place, though.

MD: 22:24 Yeah, it’s a complicated place. I’m saying, the most radical thing any woman can do, and particularly a Black woman, is to slow her ass down. Slow down, stop running for other people’s praise. Stop running for other people’s approval. Slow down. So we thought, let’s protest stress. Let’s on Labor Day every single year—because Black women’s labor has held this country up for too long—let’s protest stress. Let’s go to the most beautiful place we can think of. Let’s go to the Rockies all the way up in the mountains where can’t nobody find us, and let’s do kind of tiny acts of rebellion. Let’s lay on the grass. Let’s make s’mores. Let’s laugh until our stomachs hurt. Let’s do the most amazing things we can think of together in support of each other and living our best lives.

VG: 23:11 I mean, yeah, the first of all, my first thought is, Black women everywhere, mark your calendars. It’s going down next Labor Day. And I promise I say that with almost like giddy enthusiasm because of how transformative the Stress Protest has been in Black women’s lives. I would say this, we are protesting stress. We are coming together on this honestly sacred Indigenous land in Colorado and kind of reclaiming outdoor space for Black women and doing all of the hiking and the beautiful things that you see through the pictures. That true and powerful, but just beyond that, what makes the Stress Protest so spectacular in what I’m imagining that your friend, Malaika and her mother experienced, even if they maybe didn’t articulate it to you, which is, we are having a genuine spiritual experience on the top of a mountain that is fueled by the truth-telling of Black women who come there and vocalize that they are hurting, and then commit to claim space for themselves and their family. It is the truth telling that we do on the mountain, in the spirit of speaking life over ourselves in the ways that our great-grandmothers taught us. It is the secret coming together where we are not under the gaze of white judgment every single day where we can just look and bask in the beauty of each other’s eyes. That’s what’s happening there, and it’s not something that GirlTrek can articulate, even with the best photographer or videographer or the best social media. It is something that you just know and feel in your bones when you go there. That is really powerful and it’s something that I just know is going to be life changing for so many more Black women.

SWB: 24:54 Just hearing you talk about it as somebody who’s white, so I’m never going right. It’s not my space. Hearing you talk about it, I feel so much joy that it exists and I think I’m so glad that that is being brought into the world and I know that it’s life changing. I mean, I know my friend can’t stop talking about it and it’s like, you know, I mean I really do, I really feel a lot of joy just knowing that that’s out there. And I’m really glad that you’re kind of pushing up against this message of “constantly hustle harder” because I think that that’s coming from a lot of places and and definitely being, you know, sent to Black women especially strongly. And I, and I know you know, economically speaking, there is a real need for a lot of people to hustle, right? Like there’s a lot of people who do have to work two jobs, or drive Uber, or do Task Rabbit or whatever in order to make ends meet. And I’m curious how you think about that, that both, there’s that reality there and also there’s something really powerful about breaking out of the mindset that rest is bad or that you don’t deserve to have rest. And like, how do people sort of make sense of those truths?

MD: 26:00 Trust you. Meet Vanessa and I have both been in situations where we had to return—Vanessa, remember when you returned those bedsheets? We had to return stuff in order to even pay our bills, or Vanessa’s car was getting repossessed one time. She had to park it at the Los Angeles.

SWB: 26:20 Oh my gosh.

SWB: 26:21 At the supermarket. No, no, no.

MD: 26:25 So like trust you, me, anybody out there who is on the struggle bus. I’ve been on the struggle bus and I understand that and I believe in abundance and that’s a period I just believe in abundance. And I believe that the moment you start to know your own worth, that the entire universe conspires to make sure you get what you are worth. And I actually think that we accept less in our jobs, in our marriages, in our lives in general, because we don’t know our worth. And so part of what this is, is reflective—looking at other women and seeing the possibilities for your life. When I was at the Stress Protest, there’s a woman named Deb Davis who’s over 70 years old and has literally the best body I’ve ever seen in my entire life and the best skin I’ve ever seen in my entire life. And she was like, well Morgan, it’s because I’m vegan. And I was like, well that’s too much. Get your life together. And it’s like, I see women like that and I just, I see the pathways from my life and I remember that I’m worthy and I remember that like, you know, all things are working together for my good, even when I don’t know it. And so there’s something quite beautiful about remembering your greatness—whether you are broke right now or not. Just knowing that there’s some strong possibilities for your life.

VG: 27:55 Can I also say something, though, Morgan? It is also an absolute outrage and injustice that people have to hustle as hard as they do just to make ends meet. And that is facilitated by this false idea that working hard in this country is the difference between having and have nots, when we actually know that’s not the truth. And that’s a justice issue. And so part of what GirlTrek is doing is yes, individually we are asking Black women to rest and to slow down and to practice self care. And we are saying, and collectively we are going to demand the justice and eliminate the barriers that put us in this space in the first place. And I think that’s the power of GirlTrek’s movement: that we have combined self care with radical acts of organizing in our communities, that we have activated around a weapon that is joy and love. But we are so specific around the ways that we can heal our communities by bringing generations along, by advocating at the local level for changes around built environment, by building an agenda, and by demanding the things that we know that we are deserve as a community as a whole. So there’s both sides of that that make such a powerful movement.

MD: 29:04 You’re right because I think time and particularly leisure time, is like the last bastion of inequality. I really do. Like if I go on a Tuesday afternoon one more time to the beach trying to sneak away and it’s filled with white woman, I’m just, I did not get the memo. Give us the memo too. That’s the point I’m seeing. I’m happy for you. And give us the memo. So I think, I think that, I really do think that leisure time, you know, there’s a statistic that says that two-thirds of Black women engage in little to no leisure time physical activity. And we laughed at it. We were like, yeah, because we don’t have any leisure time [laughs]. That’s why we don’t exercise on our leisure time, because we don’t have any leisure time. So the point you raise is really important and I appreciate you, Vanessa, for pushing back. I think it’s really important.

KL: 29:49 Yeah. And speaking to that point, you know, I’m curious, when you talk about the GirlTrek agenda and sort of what’s coming out of this community, what’s on that agenda right now?

VG: 30:00 You know what, here’s the best thing about that. I could tell you what’s on my agenda and Morgan could tell you what’s on her agenda. But one of the most powerful things that we do as the leaders of this organization is trust women out there to tell us what they need. So, first of all, we don’t know all the things that are on the agenda because we are co-creating it with the women who stand side by side with us across this country. And then as we are co-creating it, we are looking to our history and our past to say, but these are the trends, this is what the data shows us. These are the things that we know for a fact right now we should at least be pushing in on. And that’s everything from the fact that it’s an injustice that if someone doesn’t have sidewalks in their neighborhood, so that they can actually do this walking that we’re supposed to be doing, to the fact that we don’t have access to reproductive healthcare in Black and Brown communities in the ways that we should, to the fact that we don’t have paid time off in the way that we should so that we can have leisure time, like Morgan was saying. So there’s so many, I think different like macro things that we are going to be addressing in terms of an agenda. But I also think the most important phase is happening right now, which we are asking women—we are awakening them, we are awakening women to the power that they hold—and we are asking them to create this agenda with us.

KL: 31:18 That is beautiful. I mean I think that is so cool that you’re building it together. And you mentioned founding GirlTrek as friends, the two of you, but you’ve grown a lot since then. And as we said, you’re the largest health nonprofit for Black women and girls. And we saw your goal was to get 1 million Black girls and women to walk with GirlTrek by the end of this year, 2019, which is incredible. What does it look like to go from sort of a scrappy nonprofit to such a really powerful organization?

MD: 31:49 [Laughter] On most days, it looks exactly the same on most days. It’s like, I call up Vanessa and I say, “did you walk today?” [Laughter] You know, I’m thankful to God that we’re still friends because I actually think that our friendship really does spirit this movement. And I think the friendship of women across the country who hold each other accountable every single day spirits this movement. And so I’m just grateful for that. It has changed. We have a mighty team of 20-plus women who work full-time and as expert contractors for GirlTrek. And then we have hundreds of organizers across 50-plus cities in America and now abroad. We just trained women in five African countries. And so it definitely has grown, we totally have scale. I think on a personal note, I spend much more time on talking about what we’re doing instead of doing what we’re doing. And to me it feels like an imperative that I balanced that a little better, but we put some things in place for our organization to be able to carry out the core values that Vanessa and I both believe in. And so for example, we have an off season every year. That’s an annual sabbatical essentially that our entire team takes. We were really, really generous benefits for women. So it’s a super competitive place to work at GirlTrek because it’s dope—it’s dope work, and you get a sabbatical every year, and get really good maternity leave and all kinds of things. We were like, “how do we create the dream work environment for the most talented women in the country?” And that’s what we set out to do.

SWB: 33:26 Oh, I wish that this weren’t just an audio medium right now, because you should have seen me and Katel look at each other when you talked about having this annual sabbatical time. I was like, “Hmm Hmm.” I’m taking notes. We’re doing that [laughter]. It’s on my list now. I love that you’re building that into sort of the fabric of the organization and seeing the way that that shapes sort of what comes out of the organization. Now I do also want to talk about one of the other sort of major events or themes that comes out of GirlTrek, which is the We Are Harriet campaign and the sort of the annual celebration and time spent talking about the legacy of Harriet Tubman. And I’m wondering if we can talk about how that got started.

VG: 34:07 Yeah. She’s our North Star. She gave us the blueprint for liberating ourselves. She showed us, you know, the power. We have something called the “Tubman Doctrine” of first saving your own life. She literally walked herself to freedom and saved her own life. And literally what more metaphor could you look for? And then she went back over and over again to get friends and family, which is what GirlTrek does. And then she rallied her allies and found joy, which is what the Tubman Doctrine is. And we have to get back to in these times when we are—every time we turn on the news or every time we open up our social media, where we feel frazzled, where we feel overwhelmed, where we feel defeated—we have to actually remind ourselves that we have been here and in much tougher, more trying times before. And that the women before us left a blueprint for how to survive and a blueprint for how to still find joy and a blueprint for how to organize for good. And that’s why we talk one about Harriet Tubman. And we started talking about her at the inception of this movement because she meant so much personally to Morgan and I, and we honor her each year in many different ways. And we happen to be honoring her right now in the month of November for the next 30 days with the We Are Harriet challenge. And we invite all of the women here, Black, white, whomever, who are inspired by this to go to GirlTrek.org to download the challenge. You can start it at any time. If you happen to hear this even after the time we’ve started, it’s an evergreen challenge. And just spend 30 days, spend 30 days really doing the work, doing the work for yourself and the work for your communities. And we give you a strategy to do that. And so we talk about Harriet Tubman, but we also talk about Fannie Lou Hamer, about Ella Baker, about Septima Clark. You know, we talk about the women in our communities who have just left us such a rich legacy and they have actually passed the baton around doing the work. And we’re asking other women to remember that.

SWB: 36:09 That’s so powerful. And something that I, I appreciate you talking about because I think that there are so many names that are not as well known and that particularly, you know, I would like to see white women like myself get much more familiar with the legacies of them. And so I’m going to take that as a challenge away from this conversation too.

KL: 36:25 So you’ve founded an organization that’s all about, you know, self care and stress reduction. But running a nonprofit as you noted is also known to be really stressful, you know, and how do you make sure you’re still getting the self care you both need

VG: 36:40 Lord have mercy. First of all, this is what you need to know. Every day, we, and I’m speaking for Morgan too, we fall down, and we are struggling around how to do this work and practice what we preach. But the good news is we have the best accountability partners you could ever imagine, which is 300,000 Black women who are committed to inspiring each other. So if Morgan and I are off of our game, those women are just going to tell us, “you don’t give the movement credibility, ladies, when you ain’t out there walking. And literally we had an organizer who called us and she was like, ”I didn’t see you. I haven’t seen you guys out there.” And she knows what that means. We need to be the leaders of the movement. So it is a struggle. It is hard on a daily basis. I don’t always know how I’m doing it, but then at the end of the day, I do it just like all those other Black women who work two jobs and have to put food on the table and are caregivers to elderly parents and who are still just trying to navigate and still find time every day to do 30 minutes of walking. Like so that’s, which is also the beauty of GirlTrek. Our self care is so simple.

KL: 37:47 I love that. It’s really inspiring. And I think on that note, if there’s a listener out there who’s thinking of starting their own movement, you know, is there any advice you’d give them for just how to get started?

VG: 37:59 The idea of advice, when I feel like my soul, I’m still in such a learning mode, feels like so a little bit foreign to me, but maybe that is my advice is to stay in learning mode. To never think you have arrived at the right answer. The only solution, the only way to do things, but to actually keep evolving, keep innovating, keep staying close to the problems you’re trying to solve so that you can be the most effective.

MD: 38:25 The answer is, never ask permission to save your own Never ask permission at all, not even to us. And that if you want to align with and be a part of GirlTrek. Start, start walking right now. Go to GirlTrek.org. Take the pledge. Invite one of your friends, a sister at the grocery store, a sister on your college. Invite your friends. Start walking, talking, and solving problems together in your neighborhood. That’s it. It’s that simple.

SWB: 38:53 So Morgan, Vanessa, we are just about out of time, but I want to make sure everybody does know where to go to learn about GirlTrek and to take part in the We Are Harriet challenge. So how can everybody get more information about everything that you do?

VG: 39:04 So it goes down on GirlTrek.org to get quick access to all of the information, take the pledge and be counted amongst 1 million and find everything you need for the challenge. And then every day we share the most amazing inspiration across our social media channels. So on Instagram, @GirlTrek, Twitter at @GirlTrek, Facebook, @healthyBlackwomenandgirls to connect with the movement.

SWB: 39:27 Well thank you so much for being on and thank you for all of the work that you’re doing. It’s truly inspirational.

VG: 39:32 Thank you for having us.

MD: 39:34 Thank you so much.

Featured podcast: Reckonings

SWB: 39:38 Hey everyone. We want to turn you onto a podcast that we have really been loving lately. It’s called Reckonings, and it explores how we change our hearts and minds.

KL: 39:46 It is really great. Each episode tells the story of someone who made some kind of transformative change from a young bully who managed to transcend bullying behavior to a survivor and a perpetrator of sexual assault who worked through it using restorative justice.

SWB: 40:00 That episode on restorative justice was so powerful. And if you listen to nothing else, definitely check out that episode. I think you’re gonna really enjoy it too. So you can find reckonings wherever it is that you listen to podcasts, or you can get them at reckonings.show.

FYOTW

KL: 40:17 All right, Sara, do you have something for our fuck yeah this week?

SWB: 40:21 Definitely do. I have been watching and waiting as Naj Austin, who was on our show a few months ago, the founder of Ethel’s Club, was getting ready to open their first club. Now if you remember, Ethel’s Club is a private social club by and for people of color. And so I’ve been watching her Instagram stories of her unpacking chairs, the space coming together. Well, the first Ethel’s Club is open and so I want to say fuck yeah to them getting that first Ethel’s Club open, and also to all of the people I have seen, just like celebrating, feeling so excited to have this space that was created for them, created for their people. And I feel like it’s so amazing to be able to see that come together and just so wonderful to see Naj really embody this awesome leader.

KL: 41:11 Oh my God, it’s so cool. I thought I saw some photos of that happening across Instagram too and it’s so cool to see, you know, we heard her describe the space so cool to see people in that space.

SWB: 41:23 So fuck yeah to Naj. We are still rooting for you, And I hope you remember us when Ethel’s goes global because I know it’s going to be big.

KL: 41:32 Fuck. Yeah. Well that’s it for us this week. Strong Feelings is recorded in Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn from EditAudio. Our theme music is Deprogrammed by Blowdryer. Check them out. They’re awesome. And they’re right here in Philly. Thanks to Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison for being our guests today, and thank you for listening. If you liked our show today, please go subscribe and rate us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. And get some Strong Feelings delivered right to your inbox. Sign up for our newsletter at strongfeelings.co. See you again next week.

[Theme music plays for 15 seconds and fades out.]


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Welcome to Strong Feelings

Best friends and business partners Katel and Sara let it all out in a weekly show about work, friendship, and feminism. Because life’s too short to bottle things up.
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