Early-stage Entrepreneurs Can Drive New Social Movements
When we say these emerging leaders mine their personal experiences, we mean they tap into their own history and context to uncover discrete issues that cause inequity and structural disparity. Ashoka Fellow T. Morgan Dixon and co-founder Vanessa Garrison mined their personal experiences to focus on stressors and traumas threatening the health of black women with their organization GirlTrek.
Public health professor Arline Geronimus coined the term “weathering” to describe the stress-induced wear and tear on the body that increases susceptibility to infection, prods early onset of chronic diseases, and accelerates aging at a molecular level. This wear and tear is something social entrepreneurs Dixon and Garrison knew all too well when they founded their organization GirlTrek.
GirlTrek aims to address the fact that Black women are dying at a higher rate than any other group in America from preventable diseases caused by obesity. By mining their personal experiences, Dixon and Garrison were able to detect, name, and address manifestations of structural inequities in new ways. A surface-level fix to address the life expectancy of Black women would be to focus on obesity alone.
GirlTrek takes this a step further to focus on ongoing stressors and traumas that jeopardize their health. GirlTrek not only challenges women to get active and organize walking teams. It also tackles weathering head-on through ending isolation and building relationships that encourage communities of women to talk to each other, support one another, and create change.
The result is the largest health nonprofit for Black women and girls in the United States. More than 100,000 women volunteers affiliated with GirlTrek take action into their own hands. They walk regularly in their neighborhoods to improve physical, mental, and emotional health and, at the same time, better their communities through monthly advocacy efforts to improve walkability and street safety.
In their 2017 TED Talk, Dixon and Garrison explained how GirlTrek started: “We received a powerful blueprint for survival, strategies, and tactics for healing, carried across oceans by African women, passed down to generations of Black women in America who used those skills to navigate institutions of slavery and state-sponsored discrimination.”
Ashoka Fellow Morgan Dixon's GirlTrek offers an innovative solution to the problem of obesity in the Black community that draws inspiration from Black history to contextualize health as a broader civil rights issue, meets women at their point of need with a feasible first step, and turns healthy living into a service opportunity by training women as health leaders in their communities.