Nichelle Nichols, president of the Kappa Psi Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., remembers when her AKAs first hosted their signature “Walk It Out” health and fitness-focused community event back in 2008.

“When we started 11 years ago, we knew that one of the major focus areas that impact communities of color is health,” Nichols tells Madison365. “We needed to do something at the local level to promote heart health such as walking. We needed to promote fun and fitness and eating right and healthy lifestyles.”

This Saturday, July 28, the Kappa Psi Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. will host its 11th annual free community health and wellness event at Warner Park Community Recreation Center on Madison’s north side. It all starts at 9 a.m.

AKAs Nichelle Nichols (left) and Gloria Ladson-Billings at a previous “Walk It Out” event

“We’re hoping to draw a diverse crowd across gender and across ages,” Nichols says. “It’s certainly family friendly. People can walk at their own pace; they can run if they want to. We’re hoping to draw and invite in communities of color, but we’re open to everybody.”

Nichols gives a lot of credit to Group Health Cooperative who has been a partner from the very beginning.

“They have played a critical role with us in providing healthy snacks for all our walkers and runners. They are there to provide reflexology and massage,” Nichols says. “They bring a real holistic look into what it means to be healthy so we really have enjoyed their partnership over the years.”

The AKAs also have a long-term partnership with 100 Black Men of Madison for Walk It Out. “The 100 Black Men are interested in affecting the health outcomes of black men,” Nichols says. “We’ve been thrilled to be working with them over the years.”

The late Chef Rod Ladson
(Photo by Hedi Rudd)

The late Chef Rod Ladson, who was also a member of the 100 Black Men of Madison, was a longtime supporter of “Walk It Out” hosting a very popular healthy cooking demonstration at the event. Ladson passed away recently and Nichols says that he simply cannot be replaced at the event … or in the community.

“Because of the tragic passing of Chef Rod, we won’t be able to do that cooking demonstration this year, but we will take a few moments to honor Rod and his memory,” Nichols says. “We hope to be able to provide some healthy foods that people can take home with them at the end of the event.

“We are really going to miss Chef Rod. It’s a big hole,” she adds. “Chef Rod’s passing is not just a huge loss for our event but obviously a huge loss in our community. He was a crowd favorite. People loved this man. They loved him cooking on the spot, talking to people, seasoning the food, answering questions, sharing the recipes and really just being a friend and a teacher.”

A few members of the 100 Black Men of Madison will be at the event to say a few words on his behalf.

Every year, the AKAs have a different Walk Champion for the two-mile walk portion of their “Walk It Out” event. This year, it will be Dr. Jasmine Zapata, who known throughout the greater Madison community as the “motivational MD” and is author of “Beautiful Beyond: A Girl’s Guide to Unlocking of Inner Beauty, Self Esteem, Resilience and Courage.”

Aaron Perry and Dr. Jasmine Zapata will be helping people get healthy at the 11th annual “Walk It Out” event.

“She is going to provide words of motivation and being committed,” Nichols says. “We’re really excited about her being our Walk Champion this year and she will get out there and help lead the pack.

A three-mile run will also be led by Aaron Perry with Black Men Run.

Health-focused workshops featuring the popular hip-hop, rock and mainstream dance cardio format called WERQ will also be offered, in addition to reflexology and massages by GHC.

“We really want to get people out and walking or running at the beginning of the event,” Nichols says. “We will have some additional sessions and workshops. For people who want to do more of a high-intensity cardio dance we’re offering WERQ session. We’ll also have a workshop on mental health provided by Dr. Diane Gooding with the UW Psychology Department.”

Like Nichols said before, the AKAs want to see a big crowd at Saturday’s event.

“It’s a fun event. It’s social,” she says. “It’s informative. We will have some health-focused organizations there providing information. It’s a great event to come out to and it’s a nice way to start your weekend.”