The GirlTrek Bootcamp Uses Black History to Illustrate Black Joy

Of course, there are many different reasons why walking outside might not be feasible for you right now or ever. Whether you’re immunocompromised, have a disability or condition that affects your mobility, or something else entirely, it’s important that you engage in physical activities in ways that feel safe and healthy. What’s more, the purpose of the Bootcamp extends far beyond the physical. I didn’t expect the daily calls to improve my mental health, but they did.

Over the course of 21 days, thousands of Black women (and some allies) joined the daily calls with Dixon and Garrison. Though participants weren’t able to speak during these calls, we gathered with the GirlTrek founders—an invisible chorus—and learned about Audre Lorde, Marsha P. Johnson, Toni Morrison, Angela X, Eartha Kitt, and many more. A conversation about Audre Lorde’s radical self-care turned into a revealing discussion about how self-care can involve grief, job transitions, or moving across the world and leaving your partner. A chat about Zora Neale Hurston prompted a discussion about the concerns that can come with being a Black woman who doesn’t have children.

“It’s not easy,” Garrison tells SELF of her decision to be so vulnerable on each call. “But when we hang up those calls, women really have our phone number.”

Garrison says that she has received text messages from women she doesn’t know telling her that the 21-day walks have saved their lives. Many Black women are stressed, tired, dealing with depression, and more, and the calls have become a lifeline for some. Day after day, history lessons converged with friendly phone banter, and it became clearer that the challenges we’re facing as a community aren’t new. By looking at our foremothers, it’s obvious that Black women have special tools to navigate this moment. But not only did Garrison and Dixon illustrate—through stories and anecdotes—that history is on our side, they showed many of us how to claim joy in the process. It wasn’t unusual for them to laugh in the middle of the call or interrupt the conversation to joke about their mediocre singing. “I genuinely feel joyous, and Morgan genuinely feels joyous. And I think it’s primarily because we get to work with each other every day in service of other Black women,” Garrison says. “We are filling our well up in this amazing way.”

Before I started this Girltrek Bootcamp, my own well was empty. I understood (and had written about) the importance of Black joy, but I’d started to think of it as something you experience when overt resisting is over, or as a way to replenish what the resistance steals. Because I’d made the decision to abstain from attending protests, I felt like I didn’t deserve joy. But, during each call, Dixon and Garrison made space for learning and laughing. They were modeling Black joy in the midst of resisting. “Joy in the face of difficulty—or even the face of times that are not difficult—is really claiming and standing in what is deeply meaningful and beautiful,” Cicely Harshom-Brathwaite, Ph.D., previously told SELF. Dixon and Garrison illustrated that message over and over, and slowly, I gave myself permission to relax—this made joyful resistance a credible form of action for me.

“There is healing in you putting one foot in front of the other,” Garrison said on the final call. “And the tightness that you feel, the exhaustion that you feel, the confusion that you feel—there will be clarity and energy and joy on the other side of your walking if you commit to that actual habit.”

The 21-day trek is, first and foremost, an invitation for Black women and allies to lace up their sneakers and go for a walk. Beyond that, though, it’s a reminder that looking back at our history is a strategic decision, and it also offers a deep recognition of how Black women show up. This isn’t just about the Black women written about in books. This is about Black women and girls in the individual corners of everyday life. “I hope that every time a Black woman walks into a room, steps up to a podium, accepts an award, we bring our mothers into the room with us,” Garrison says. “We want women to bring every Black woman who wasn’t allowed back into these rooms into the spaces that you’re in now, and honor them at every moment.”

If you’re interested in learning more about GirlTrek or doing the 21 Day Challenge, you can sign up here.


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