By Coshandra Dillard
“All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” — Fannie Lou Hamer, 1964
In a world rife with social conditions that determine health outcomes, taking control of your health is revolutionary. On Oct. 6, black women will honor a civil rights icon who showed what it means to be revolutionary and whose life exemplified the importance of self-care decades before the concept was coined.
GirlTrek—the largest national public health movement for Black women and girls—will celebrate the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer by hosting 100 local walks. Oct. 6 would have been Hamer’s 100th birthday.
Here in Tyler, the local chapter of GirlTrek—Rose City Trekkers—will participate in the walk set to begin at the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, 315 N. Broadway Ave., and continue through the streets of Tyler for 100 minutes.
“While the country reels from conflict in Charlottesville, this is an opportunity to herald the legacy of an American hero who brought us together,” says GirlTrek co-founder T. Morgan Dixon.
Hamer is known for her courage during the Civil Rights Movement, as she often stunned audiences with an electrifying account of terror in the Jim Crow South. She led a grassroots campaign and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged a segregationist delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
Hamer’s justice work amid a hostile and violent climate negatively impacted her health. As a young woman, a doctor performed a hysterectomy without her consent as part of an effort to reduce the black population in Mississippi. Later in life, she was jailed and beaten because of her advocacy. She later succumbed to breast cancer.
“She died too soon putting her body on the line for our freedom and we want to celebrate her life in a big way,” Dixon says. “In her honor, we are going to raise an army of sisters, #FanniesArmy, who will lead 100 walks across America.”
Not only did Hamer fight for voting rights, but she also championed health equity. For example, Hamer established a program to provide agricultural solutions to poor people. She understood the value of improving health by eating whole food raised from people’s own hands with the creation of the Freedom Farm Cooperative. In 1971, she appealed to the Field Foundation in New York City to help fund the co-op. In a letter, she wrote:
“Freedom Farm Corporation is working. Its purpose of feeding people on one hand is the essence of humanitarianism; but at the same time it allows the sick one a chance for healing, the silent ones a chance to speak, the unlearned ones a chance to learn, and the dying ones a chance to live.”
GirlTrek organizers say they want to honor Hamer’s legacy by preventing chronic, stress-related diseases for a new generation.
Black women and girls are disproportionately affected by chronic stress, which takes a toll on their mental, physical and spiritual health. Black women die younger and at higher rates than any other group of women in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 82 percent of Black women are overweight, 53 percent are morbidly obese, and 95 percent of Black girls ages 6 to 11 will be overweight or obese women by 2034 unless diet and activity change.
Co-founders Dixon and Vanessa Garrison recently took the GirlTrek story to the global stage at TED 2017: Walking as a revolutionary act of self-care. They encourage women to simply walk, as it’s a first step toward healthy living, families, and communities. GirlTrek has mobilized more than 100,000 Black women and girls nationwide over the last four years. Its goal is to motivate 1 million Black women and girls to walk for better health by 2020 .
GirlTrek organizers say the Oct. 6 event’s goal is to inspire 100 new leaders that day. To be counted, register your walk here.
IF YOU GO:
What: #FanniesArmy, Black women walk to uphold legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer
When: 6 p.m. Oct. 6
Where: Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, 315 N. Broadway Ave.