They sang, they stretched and they walked.

About 30 women walked 3.2 miles under a bright March sky in honor of Harriet Tubman at the Walk for Harriet! Walk for Health! event at Olin Park on Sunday, March 11. The event was organized by the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness (FFBWW) as a part of its health promotion programming to get black women and girls physically active and engaged in fitness as a lifestyle habit. The walk coincides with National Harriet Tubman Day which is celebrated on March 10 every year, the day of her death in 1913.

“Harriet Tubman symbolizes freedom and perseverance,” said Lisa Peyton-Caire, the founder of FFBWW. “This is a woman who lived under the threat of life and limb to achieve her mission to save the lives of her people. She is a shining example in our proud history and symbolizes the spirit that we need to fight for our freedom and our health.”

(L-r) Janine Stephens, Jalen McCullough, Erin McCullough, Jaqueline Hunt, Laisha Rowell (Photo by Diane Schwartz)

Before the walk, Peyton-Caire explained to the group how Tubman connects to the Foundation’s mission.

“Harriet ran for and secured her freedom and then went back for others. The risks did not deter her,” she said. “We have to be as tenacious and determined like Harriet to fight for our health and well-being and to support each other. By walking today, we are honoring her legacy.”

According to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Park website, Tubman was born in 1822 and was an American abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the Civil War. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, family and friends, using the network of anti-slavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. Her work during the Civil War helped to free an additional 700 enslaved people.

(Photo by Diane Schwartz)

Peyton Caire explained why the group is walking for health.

“We know that Wisconsin leads the country in health disparities for black women, and that heart disease — the number one killer — and other conditions compromise our physical health,” she said. “Walking is an easy and inexpensive way to combat this. You just need a pair of good walking shoes and a jacket. No excuses.”

In addition, Peyton-Caire asked women to step up to serve as neighborhood health ambassadors and to start walking groups.

“We will launch walking groups all over the city this year and we need your help,” she said.

Ten women immediately answered the call and volunteered to lead groups.

The event started with stretching and a song led by Theola Carter, a planning team member of the Foundation’s Black Women’s Wellness Day event and co-organizer of the walk.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” sang the group before heading out.

The group walked along the bike path on John Nolen Drive to Monona Terrace and then back to Olin Park.

Erica Marty, 46, was there because last year she was diagnosed with high blood pressure.

“That was a wake-up call,” she said. “It’s important to get out and moving.”

Laisha Rowell and Janine Stephens (Photo by Diane Schwartz)

Jacqueline Hunt, AODA counselor and Case Manager at Anesis Center for Marriage and Family Therapy, showed up to encourage women to be proactive about their mental health.

“It’s about mind, body and spirit. If people don’t feel well, nothing else matters. Walking helps connect black women and feel supported while doing it,” she said.

Erin McCullough is five-year cancer survivor. She was joined by her son, Jalen, who came to support her.

“I admit I got a little lazy over the winter, but I’m trying to be healthier,” she smiled.

The group spread out on the path but “no one would be left behind,” Peyton-Caire said.

Participants were encouraged to walk at their own pace and stop if they needed to.

“One of the key things with our walks is that we leave no one behind. We may have to stop along the way for someone to get their breath back, but we’re bringing everyone along,” Peyton-Caire said. “This was Harriet’s commitment and this is our philosophy with our walks and in our advocacy for black women and our communities.”

Tubman walks were started by Girl Trek, a national organization dedicated to getting black women walking. They operate in target cities across the country.

“We did the first Tubman Walk in 2013 when our former planning team member Vanika Mock served as a city-wide Girl Trek representative,” said Peyton-Caire. “At the same time, we also started the Madison Tubman Walkers. We will continue the Madison Tubman Walkers as well as the neighborhood walking groups that are being initiated by our wellness ambassadors.”

The first Tubman Walk in 2013.
(Photo by A. David Dahmer)

Peyton-Caire said that they remain in contact with Girl Trek, even though Madison is not currently a target city. She and co-organizers Marilyn Peebles Ruffin, Nia Enemuoh Trammell, and Corinda Rainey Moore incorporate Girl Trek’s national walking initiatives into the foundation’s work.

“We’re trying to transform women’s health and these initiatives are all small pieces of the puzzle.”

Laisha Rowell said it best.

“I’m trying to build a healthy lifestyle. Just like I brush my teeth twice a day, I want to do healthy activities every day,” she said.

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