“If Harriet Tubman can walk for freedom, then we can walk for better health,” says Marilyn Ruffin. “We can do this. We need to keep each other accountable and not become another statistic.”
The walking revolution is set to begin on March 10. Thousands of girls and women across the country will walk 100 minutes in solidarity on that date starting exactly at 3:30 p.m. to commemorate 100 years since the passing of Harriet Tubman (March 10, 1913) and to focus on improving the health of African American women throughout the country. Madison has its own group of “Madison Tubman Walkers” that will be braving the cold weather that day.
“I would love to see a huge representation out there in honor of Harriet Tubman,” says Ruffin, one of the organizers. “With everything that women went through and everything that our ancestors went through, we can do this for own health.”
This is an event for women of all ages, although Ruffin says it would be wonderful if they could get more older women to come out. “If you can’t walk [the whole] 100 minutes, it’s OK,” she says. “It will be a great chance to bond with other ladies and do something great for your health.”
The Madison Tubman Walkers Committee is made up of Ruffin, Lisa Peyton Caire, Theola Carter, Vanika Mock, Nia Trammell, and Corinda Moore. The event will take place on John Nolen Drive at a starting point that will soon be determined. “It’s really starting to come together. It’s exciting,” Ruffin says. “It’s March and people have quite a bit of cabin fever and are tired of being indoors all winter ... people want to get outside and get some fresh air. I think this will be a great thing.”
Today, black women and girls face an unprecedented crisis. Black women are dying younger and at higher rates than any other group in America. Studies show that 1 in 2 Black girls born in 2000 will likely get diabetes, 4 in 10 black high school students are overweight, and 4 out of 5 black women are over a healthy body weight leading to deadly diseases like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
“The statistics for African American women are not good. If we don’t make a stand for our own selves, then nobody will,” Ruffin says. “Ideally, I would say that it’s so important for us as African American women to get out there because we have the worst statistics. Everything that you read about in the health field — African American women are two or three times more likely to be affected by this or that. On and on. If we don’t start, no one will do it for us.”
A few weeks ago, Ruffin was cruising Facebook one night and came upon the GirlTrek website and figured that they could do something like that in Madison. GirlTrek is a groundbreaking 2-year-old national nonprofit that supports thousands — and seeks to rally one million — active Black women and girls by 2018 to address the health crisis in African American communities. Currently, GirlTrek has registered over 12,500 women and girls across 39 states to walk on March 10.
GirlTrek started with a routine telephone call between two friends, Vanessa Garrison and Morgan Dixon. The two women discussed the health challenges facing their families and communities. The conversation ranged from the lack of healthy food options in poor neighborhoods to the influence of hip hop videos on the psyche of teenage girls. The conversation took an unusual turn with the thought of “what would Harriet Tubman do?”
That thought turned into a nonprofit organization and health movement with a mission to inspire and support black women and girls to live their healthiest, most-fulfilled lives.
“It’s been 100 years since her passing in 1913 and I think she is a perfect person to honor,” Peebles Ruffins says. “So many people have heard of Harriet Tubman, but they don’t know her full story so I hope we can use this event to be an educational avenue while we’re walking for better health.”
Tubman was an African-American abolitionist and humanitarian during the American Civil War. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made more than 13 missions to rescue more than 70 slaves using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. “Even on social media, people can learn about her and what an amazing woman she is,” Ruffin says. “She was out there and was able to help bring families up north from the south. She didn’t leave anyone behind.
“That’s our thing with the walk for 100 minutes. We aren’t leaving anybody behind, either,” she adds. “We want you all to come with us. This won’t be a marathon walk. You take it at your own pace. This is supposed to be a start of an 8-week kick-off for walking for health and walking for 30 minutes 5 days a week.”
The Monday after the walk, Ruffin hopes the ladies keep going in full force. How do we keep women motivated all year round to take control of their health?
“Constant encouragement and forging partnerships that last beyond one day is the key,” Ruffin says. “We want women to stick with this. The Harriet Tubman Walk is just a mere starting point. Five days a week and 30 minutes a day. That’s what we want women to do after the walk. It’s very doable.
“This won’t be the only event. This will be the start,” she adds. “I would love to be able to do this in the summertime. This is just the kick-off. We want to get women energized.”
Sign up for the walk at www.GirlTrek.org or the Facebook event page. For more information, e-mail Marilyn Ruffin at email@example.com.