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GirlTrek: Redefining Active Advocacy

In our Winter 2015 American Bicyclist magazine, we looked at the “Big Ideas” coming out of the bike movement. Our former Policy Director, Darren Flusche, spoke with Vanessa Garrison of GirlTrek about her life-changing movement. Want American Bicyclist in your mailbox? Join the League today!

Walking advocate Vanessa Garrison is taking on the crisis of inactivity.

“Everything we do is around a broader discussion about black community— household stability, health, women with chronic diseases, and the crisis of inactivity,” Garrison, the founder of GirlTrek, said of her work.

It’s not about walking, per se, but about how people walking more and creating environments where people walk can impact our society. Sound familiar? It should. It’s the shift that’s happening in bicycling advocacy right now, too.


GirlTrek is a network of more than 25,000 women across the country who organize to “heal our bodies, inspire our girls, and reclaim the streets of our communities.”Each month GirlTrek identifies a challenge and rewards women for getting out and walking. It’s all based on the idea that, to address the health crisis among African American women, “we have the obligation to lace up our sneakers and walk out our doors,” Garrison said.

But, at the outset, GirlTrek members pushed back. What about the crime in Chicago? What about the dangerous traffic in Memphis? These barriers are real, and Garrison and her GirlTrek colleagues realized they’d take powerful advocacy to address. To do that, GirlTrek has created a peer network to identify and address these dangers—everything from the need for crosswalks to reducing gun violence and street harassment.

Garrison is now active in bicycling advocacy in Washington, D.C., but it certainly wasn’t always that way. When her husband suggested they go on a 400-mile bike tour together a few years ago, her response was: “You have the wrong wife!” But, she said, as you ride a bike or walk in your community, you start to understand what the issues are.

“We got women active for fitness, but many of them said ‘my neighborhood is not that walkable,’ ” Garrison said. “We realized we were creating advocates.” People who spend time walking and biking in their communities know what they like and don’t like, even if they don’t ever think of themselves as advocates.

“We need to stop defining advocacy in narrow terms,” Garrison said. “If you ask people what they want, you’ll hear them say: I have ideas.”

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