Echoing Green President Cheryl Dorsey authored this article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Read an excerpt below, or view the full article here.
In his introduction to this article series, DRK Foundation CEO Jim Bildner argues that early-stage social enterprises are the building blocks for profound social change. At Echoing Green, an organization that supports emerging social sector leaders, we know this is true. Our leaders play a vital role in creating social change. They spur new social movements, because they have the authenticity to do so. In short, they mine their personal experiences, hack the current system, and often anchor new social movements via a new organization that drives community action.
When we say these emerging leaders mine their personal experiences, we mean they tap into their own history and context to uncover discrete issues that cause inequity and structural disparity. The tragic death of 27-year-old civil rights activist Erica Garner—a mother of two young children and the eldest daughter of Eric Garner, who died in 2014 from a police choke hold—underscores a complex reality for many women of color across the United States. The cause of her untimely death was a heart attack, and it is hard to ignore the toll activism and inequality can take on health. Public health professor Arline Geronimus coined the term “weathering” to describe the stress-induced wear and tear on the body that increases susceptibility to infection, prods early onset of chronic diseases, and accelerates aging at a molecular level.
This wear and tear is something social entrepreneurs T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison knew all too well when they founded their organization GirlTrek. GirlTrek aims to address the fact that Black women are dying at a higher rate than any other group in America from preventable diseases caused by obesity. By mining their personal experiences, Dixon and Garrison were able to detect, name, and address manifestations of structural inequities in new ways. A surface-level fix to address the life expectancy of Black women would be to focus on obesity alone. GirlTrek takes this a step further to focus on ongoing stressors and traumas that jeopardize their health. GirlTrek not only challenges women to get active and organize walking teams. It also tackles weathering head-on through ending isolation and building relationships that encourage communities of women to talk to each other, support one another, and create change.
The result is the largest health nonprofit for Black women and girls in the United States. More than 100,000 women volunteers affiliated with GirlTrek take action into their own hands. They walk regularly in their neighborhoods to improve physical, mental, and emotional health and, at the same time, better their communities through monthly advocacy efforts to improve walkability and street safety. In their 2017 TED Talk, Dixon and Garrison explained how GirlTrek started: “We received a powerful blueprint for survival, strategies, and tactics for healing, carried across oceans by African women, passed down to generations of Black women in America who used those skills to navigate institutions of slavery and state-sponsored discrimination.”
Continue reading this article on ssir.org.