Co-authored by Vanessa Garrison and T. Morgan Dixon, GirlTrek Co-Founders
Since 1998, Black women have registered and voted at higher rates than their male counterparts in every election in the United States. In 2008 and in 2012, Black women changed the course of history by becoming the largest demographic group to cast ballots in an election.
According to Susan Smith's 1982 book Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired, "the lines of continuity" of our activism for health and justice "stretch from the Progressive Era to the New Deal, and on into the civil rights era" to today.
As far back as the early 1900s, Black women in the US organized around women like Mary Turner, a wife and soon-to-be-mother who was lynched while pregnant and devastatingly had her unborn child removed from her belly while hanging from a tree. Mary Turner's life catapulted the work of an organized group of women called the Anti-Lynching Crusaders, with the slogan "A Million Women to Stop Lynching".
Today, GirlTrek carries on this legacy, leading a national health movement that encourages Black women and girls to get active by developing a routine of daily walking. For GirlTrek, walking isn't just for fitness--it's about coming together and walking together to heal, to inspire, to empower, and to take ownership of our neighborhood streets and communities. As educators, entrepreneurs, preachers, activists and family matriarchs, Black women are and have always been on the frontlines of the movement. Black women show up when it matters the most. We understand that our lives and the lives of our children and the viability of our communities are at stake.
The reality is that Black women and girls are still living under trying circumstances in today's world. We live in communities that are under extreme stress whether it is from crime, health inequities, blight or even gentrification. These conditions determine our ability as women to have healthy pregnancies and to give birth to infants who have the greatest opportunity to live past their first year of life--referred to as birth equity. It is a well-documented fact that having a healthy baby is impacted by the health of a woman well before becoming pregnant. Problems during delivery and prematurity are a result, in part, of chronic stress and diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.
Black women are three times more likely to have a life threatening complication during delivery, known as severe maternal morbidity, than White women. Depending on which part of the country you live in, Black babies are on average two to three times less likely to reach their first birthday, known as infant mortality, as compared to White babies. The primary reason for this difference is that Black babies are born prematurely or with low birth weight. Both severe maternal morbidity and infant mortality rates remain higher for Black women in NYC, even at higher income and educational levels.
Evidence actually shows that the act of voting, being engaged with a political process and being engaged with your community may have mental, social, and physical health benefits.
So, this Election Day, November 8th, join GirlTrek's Black Girls Justice League, a campaign where women from across the country will lead walking groups of voters to their polling precincts. To find a walk near you, search the national map found at girltrek.org. The map is searchable by zip code. In NYC, the Health Department's Center for Health Equity will be teaming up with GirlTrek.
Let's use our power, let our voices be heard, and let all of us--no matter our age, race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, and political views--exercise our right to vote this Election Day. Together.
Follow Dr Aletha Maybank @DrAlethaMaybank and GirlTrek @GirlTrek.