Reflections on MLK Day 2019

mlk

Yesterday was the great Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s, birthday. I am fortunate that I get to spend my days in an institution of higher learning where the man’s life and his message is meaningfully celebrated—many places just cancel classes and call it a day. I am also fortunate that, in my teaching and my research, I get to focus on the liberation of African and African diasporic people as it is inextricably tied with the liberation of other groups and Mother Earth. As such, I’ve had the privilege of exploring Dr. King’s work over the past several years, especially in our Civil Rights Era unit.

But when I teach about that period of time I also bring in those who struggled alongside him; who supported him in getting his great message of equity and equality for everyone—at home and abroad—out into the world.

I teach my students about other great thinkers, leaders, artists, activists, and teachers like:

U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm

Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, Sr.

Ella Josephine Baker

Nina Simone

James Baldwin

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates

Horace Julian Bond

Coretta Scott King

Malcolm X

Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael)

Dr. Angela Davis

Assata Shakur

Medgar Evers 

Myrlie Evers-Williams

Fannie Lou Hamer

Bayard Rustin

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.

U.S. Representative John Lewis

Mahalia Jackson

And The Little Rock Nine, to name a few

But I also teach them about those who came before them; women and men who sacrificed themselves for the gift of freedom when they had no reason to believe that they would ever achieve it.

One of my absolute favorite people to discuss every semester is Frederick Douglass, born enslaved but, by the time of his death, a best-selling author several times over, a statesman having served as U.S. Ambassador to Haiti, and a much sought-after speaker. I not only read his autobiography (available for free) with my students, but often share with them his famous speech delivered on July 4,,1852, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”.

So yesterday, when I was listening to Dr. King’s famous sermon, “Loving Your Enemies” I found myself recalling Douglass’ speech and reflecting on the country’s current state of upheaval that is eerily reminiscent of the U.S. post-Reconstruction era with its rabid white backlash and a large enough segment of the white population desiring to “take back the country”.

One part of Douglass’ speech that always sends chills down my spine is Douglass’ directive for the U.S. to live up to her potential, a task we have yet to undertake, let alone accomplish.

I was also reminded to the incredible 1965 debate between James Baldwin and William Buckley in which the question is asked “Has the American Dream Been Achieved at the Expense of the American Negro?”and which Baldwin won by a landslide. Baldwin, as usual, was razor sharp in his analysis of the condition of the African American in the deeply racist U.S.

The debate was held at Cambridge University in England and I could not help but recognize the irony of all those lily-white bodies giving Baldwin a standing ovation at the same time that they were treating their own “negroes” as second-class citizens.

These connections must be made between the distant past, the not-so-distant past, and the present moment across these artificially constructed boundaries and borders that we all blindly adhere to. For me, it is the only way that we can see clear to a way forward where Dr. King’s dream will finally be realized, rather than continuing to dry up in the sun like a raisin, festering like the untended wound that it is the American psyche, stinking up the world with its rottenness, and covering our hearts with its oozing crust and weighs us down before finally it explodes, leaving all of us with no more dreams to be had as the great writer and poet begged us to take note of many years ago.

 

Harlem

By Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore—

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over—

like a syrupy sweet?

 

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

 

Or does it explode?

Langston Hughes, “Harlem” from The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes (1995)

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Red Alert: 90% of junk food targeted to Black and Latinx kids Study finds

 

tracye mcquirterA new study confirms what we already know — food companies target nearly 90% of junk food ads to black and latinx children. This is a 50% increase since 2013, while advertising to white children has declined.

Their goal with this predatory advertising is to hook children of color as young as toddlers onto the tastes of unhealthy foods with the intent that they’ll stay hooked for life. Most children of color live in impoverished communities with no or low access to healthy foods, but abundant access to unhealthy foods. Food companies prey on and perpetuate these systemic conditions. The result is billions in profits for food companies and a public health crisis of chronic disease and early death for black and latinx communities.

The USDA, whose job is to promote profits for the food industry, allows food companies to voluntary regulate themselves. But instead, they double down on their damage. (And folks still think vegans are the food police!)

While we continue to resist and organize against these injustices, we also continue to take the health of our communities back #byanygreensnecessary. That includes educating about, choosing and growing healthy vegan foods when and where they’re available and accessible.

Use Tracye McQuirter’s FREE African American Vegan Starter Guide in your tool kit and share it far and wide. And here’s the link to the actual study by the Rudd Center, Council on Black Health and Salud America.

#BlackHealthMatters!

Reposted from By Any Greens Necessary

Check out Tracye McQuirter’s two cookbooks, both of which are brilliant and I return to again and again for plant-based inspiration.

The first is By Any Greens Necessary: A Revolutionary Guide for Black Women Who Want to Eat Great, Get Healthy, and Look Phat (2010)

by any greens

Her latest, which she co-authored with her equally gorgeous mother, Mary McQuirter, is Ageless Vegan: The Secret to Living a Long and Healthy Plant-Based Life (2018)

ageless vegan

Again, I own both of these books and the vast majority of the recipes are accessible and delicious. A few are hardcore, like the dandelion lemon juice–phew!–but you know you are doing your body good when you drink it.

I am an Amazon affiliate and receive a small commission when you purchase the books discussed here through the links. 

 

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Review of Daily Motivations for African-American Success by Dennis Kimbro

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I’m a big fan of witticisms, pithy phrases, words of wisdom that have passed the trials of time, anything that keeps me motivated to strive to live my best life.

What we seek we find.

For example, while brewing up some nourishing tea this morning from a recipe that I love from Anthony William’s latest Spirit download, Medical Medium Liver Rescue (2018) I came across two quotes on the tea bag tags. One, from my Buddha Teas Organic Red Clover Tea, was anonymous. It read, “Don’t count days, make days count”. Right on!

The other, from Traditional Medicinals’ Organic Nettle Leaf Tea, was from Lord Byron: “There is pleasure in the pathless woods”.

And while as a black woman from New York I am wary of following literally Lord Byron’s implied imperative to go wandering around in the wilderness I think it is worth it to reflect on our lives as metaphorical pathless woods to make of it what we would; to forge our own trail(s), reveling along the way at the countless stars that guide us, the luscious scents and sights all around, the gift of observing the various creatures, near and far who make their way in and out of our journeys, appreciating tripping over a tree root protruding from the earth, prompting us to look down just in time to escape the more treacherous of the living making their way stealthily toward us…

I digress.

A few years ago my dear friend, Glennie, alerted me to a beautiful gift to the world in the form of daily gratitude reminders from Brother David Steindl-Rast through his Network for Grateful Living. Since signing on in 2014, every morning when I open my email I am treated to “A Word of the Day”, a fresh sentiment of profound gratitude that helps me reflect, put things into perspective, and set the tone for the rest of my day.

Two of my favorites that I keep over my desk in my home office are by the writer and activist James Baldwin and painter Gillian Pederson Krag.

The first, by Baldwin reads, “Not everything that can be faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed that is not faced”.

Nuff said.

The other, by Pederson Krag reads, “Art makes life bearable. It isn’t a luxury. Like our capacity for understanding and our experience of love, it is a vitally important part of life.

Again, nuff said.

Both are words to live by and I am richer for having my friend who shared this wonderful resource with me, for Brother David for providing such a remarkable service to the world, and for the many brilliant healers who have spoken their truths (these are just a tiny few of the “things” I’m grateful for).

This past last half of the year I have been equally inspired on the daily by a book that I rediscovered on one of my bookshelves and have consulted every morning since. It’s Dennis Kimbro’s Daily Motivations for African-American Success. Kimbro is also the author of Think and Grow Rich: A Black Choice. Though it was published way back in 1993 I have found each entry of Daily Motivations to be relevant and instructive for those of us who are lifelong seekers.

As would be expected, the book begins on January 1stand goes straight through the whole year, to December 31st. As with his other books Kimbro is very much dedicated to providing motivation for African-American people to reach their fullest potential. As such,  Daily Motivations includes African stories and proverbs as well as African American narratives; some imagined, others taken from well-known and lesser-known historical and contemporary achievers (and underachievers), to motivate. Along the way, as I was, the reader may be exposed to African-Americans who have done some amazing things, but are not widely recognized.

Each entry has a title, a kind of teaser that sometimes, at first, seems unrelated to the day’s lesson. The title is followed by a quote from usually a famous African-American achiever. Each narrative or lesson is punctuated with a take-away; a kind of mantra or affirmation that one can repeat throughout the day to be reminded of the lesson and reflect on it.

I absolutely love Daily Motivations! This may be TMI, but I keep mine in my bathroom so that I can consult with it first thing in the morning–a great way to start the day.

I’ve even dogeared a few pages that speak to me and seemed to arrive at the right time.

A couple of my favorites:

April 25th: “The Light Is On and Somebody’s Home”, which ends with the affirmation: “I will be a point of light and light the path of others”.

July 4th: “Hallelujah! Free at Last”. The epigraph comes from Sojourner Truth and reads, “This colored people going to be a people”. The ending affirmation is “I will treat freedom with the respect to which it is entitled”.

If you’re familiar with the history of African and African diasporic people in this country, or at the very least, the venerable Frederick Douglass’ famous July 5, 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” in  which he reminds those gathered to celebrate the United States’ independence from England that for people of African descent who were still in legal bondage, July 4th was not their holiday, then you’ll know why this entry’s one of my favorites (definitely something to keep in the front of our brains as hard-earned freedoms are constantly under threat—and lest we be fooled into thinking that the contemporary moment is an anomaly, rest assured this has ALWAYS been the case).

My only criticism of the text is that it is VERY male-centric. As numerous scholars have pointed out, not the least of which is Angela Davis in her seminal work, Women, Race, and Class (1983). The fact is Black women have been at the forefront of socio-political and economic change in the black community since they first arrived on these shores. Can someone say Ida B. Wells or Madame C.J. Walker as two very obvious examples?

Make it known.

As I said, I found this book tucked away on my bookshelf sometime in mid-2018. It remains in my bathroom and on January 1st I started the morning off right with a new year of black genius!

What’s your favorite motivational text? Any recommendations?

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Review of Five-Carat Soul by James McBride

five-carat soul

I first learned about James McBride’s Five-Carat Soul (2017) from the incomparable Levar Burton’s brilliant podcast “LeVar Burton Reads”. You’ll remember Mr. Burton from his long-running children’s program Reading Rainbow, as well as his work on Roots, and Star Trek.  On the podcast, which I listened to during one of my daily summer walks, Mr. Burton read “Goat”, a wonderful little story about a young African-American teacher who takes a special interest in one of her students and unwittingly uncovers a painful family secret.

I fell in love.

If you’ve read any other of my other McBride posts you’ll remember that I am a huge fan. Though The Good Lord Bird was quite controversial because of  the author’s  treatment of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass I found it beautifully irreverent and funny as heck! From his Kill “Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul I gained insight into the inner life of the iconographic musician James Brown as part and parcel of the American cultural landscape.

Of course, given my knowledge of his previous work and the lucid reading of the short story from the new collection by Mr. Burton I jumped at the opportunity to read more from this Renaissance man. (If you haven’t already done so I would highly recommend checking out Mr. McBride’s wonderfully interactive website).

The only problem was when I went to my local library’s website there were no copies to be had—all out and already requested by multiple patrons.

So, I waited

And I waited

And I waited

Finally, after several months, and while on a completely unrelated book-hunting expedition in my university library I found it!!! A brand new, as yet, uncracked copy of Five-Carat Soul! Oh glory!

I couldn’t wait to get it home.

And it was a glorious experience from start to finish.

Five-Carat Soul is fabulously innovative in that it is not simply a collection of independently conceived short stories. Rather, the reader is first treated to a haunting short story about a long-discarded, but infinitely historically powerful with implications for the contemporary moment toy railroad car in “The Under Graham Railroad Box Car Set”. That first story is immediately followed by the intimately related collection under the title “The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band” for which the book is named.

From there, the collection takes the reader to the distant past before transporting us to a point that most of us choose to ignore (“The Moaning Bench”), then a contemporary time that is tangibly impacted by the distant past (“The Christmas Dance”) and finally an allegory entitled “The Fish Man Angel”, before plunging the reader into what seems to me to be the real star of the text: “Mr. P and the Wind”.

Here’s the thing about this last section (without spoiling the ending): instead of a traditional “Author’s Note” the author writes about taking his two nephews to a major zoo when the two were little tikes. According to the author “They were so horrified by what they saw, I wrote Mr. P and the Wind for them” (np). It is significant that at this point the author puts the title of the “short story” in italics in that it signifies that it is, in fact, a novella, that we have just finished reading; part of, but not really part of the larger collection.

Mr. P and the Wind” deserves to be set apart as it testifies to the wisdom of the animal kingdom, the disgusting lack of respect we, as humans who are also animals, have for it and the need for an attendance to the life after this life that we think we know.

While reading I was reminded of how, as a young parent with a misguided desire to expose my beautiful son to the larger world, I took him, first, to the Bronx Zoo and then to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, where my boy promptly fell asleep both times.

I think it speaks to my son’s innate wisdom that his little subconscious mind decided that he wanted to have no part in the exploitation, confinement, and abuse of those beautiful creatures.

Not to be deterred,  a few years later I took him to Disney World where we visited a glass-enclosed exhibit of silverback mountain gorillas. He was a majestic being who made his disdain for all of us idiots pressing our various body parts flush against the glass known by walking up to the glass and then very deliberately and slowly turning his back on us. It was like a well-deserved slap in the face, and it has stayed with me every since.

This is also the kind of impact great literature can have on us—it can haunt and change us forever. Five-Carat Soul is a prime example of another great piece of literature by a profoundly gifted writer.

 

 

 

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Grace and the Soccer Grannies of South Africa

soccer grannies of south africa

Soccer Grannies of South Africa

I had the extraordinary fortune of tuning into On Being with Krista Tippett the other day (shout out to Cleo Wade for including the podcast in the list of activities she embarks on as part of her regular self-care).

Tippett’s guest for the day was one of my absolute favorite people in the world, Reverend angel Kyodo williams. The title of the episode is “The World is Our Field of Practice”, and it is extraordinary! One that I will return to again and again!

There are many gems in the roughly hour-long conversation, but one that came to mind as I watched this moving video from Karmatube entitled “The Soccer Grannies of South Africa” is this one:

“I just want to say that I think black America, as non-monolithic as it is, has persisted in an amazing grace throughout the history of this country that is phenomenal; that if any of us were willing to be just a little bit sane [laughs] and look, we would recognize, “Oh, my goodness. How extraordinary that black people, in particular — indigenous people, as well — could live the lives of dignity that they have chosen for themselves in the face of the onslaught of what this country’s history has been and continues to be and continues to put upon them.” So grace, I think, is a gift that black peoples have inhabited for a great deal of time.”

Indeed.

And yes, I realize that Rev. williams focuses on African-Americans in her comment. The linkage that I make with the women of South Africa is one that I insist upon because 1: imperialism is a plague and 2: our refusal to recognize connections reinforces the divides that others seek to profit from and 3: our insistence on privileging one person or group’s suffering over another’s keeps the status quo in place and makes us complicit in Our own oppression and exploitation.

The women in the video–so beautiful, strong, courageous, fierce and full of grace in the face of profound marginalization, physical and psychological abuse, severe impoverishment, human loss and its concomitant pain because of the violence that arises out of desperation and the ravages of the AIDS epidemic that they have suffered throughout their lives–are truly inspiring.

While watching the video I couldn’t help but reflect on the Dutch invasion of what the invaders named The Cape of Good Hope in the 17th century (because it saved their asses, literally) and their arrogance in their conviction that the lands that they decided was theirs to own was uninhabited. And instead of giving the land back to the indigenous people when they realized that it was inhabited they had the audacity to enact laws to force those same indigenous people into the most infertile, unforgiving land on an earth space that was and is resplendent with natural resources–like diamonds from which the DeBeers family continues to grow wealthy!!!

Check out the Soccer Grannies here:

Soccer Grannies of South Africa

 

Some literary works worth the read:

You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town (2000) by Zoe Wicomb

A Walk in the Night and Other Stories (1968) by Alex La Guma

In the Fog of the Season’s End (2012) also by Alex La Guma

Anything by Bessie Head but here are a couple of suggestions:

Maru (2013)

A Question of Power (2017)

The Collector of Treasures and Other Botswana Village Tales (2013)

Serowe: Village of the Rain Wind (1981)

Second Class Taxi (1984) by Sylvester Stein

Anything by Zakes Mda, but here are a few suggestions:

She Plays in the Darkness (2004)

Ways of Dying (2002)

The Heart of Redness (2013)

Cion: A Novel (2007)

Fools and Other Stories (1986) by Njabulo Ndebele

South African Literature and Culture: Rediscovery of the Ordinary also by Njabulo Ndebele

The Cry of Winnie Mandela (2007) also by Njabulo Ndebele

Disgrace (2000) by J.M. Coetzee

July’s People: A Novel (1982) by Nadine Gordimer

**This is just a small sampling of some of the amazing literature that came out of apartheid South Africa. There is so much more to discover!!

A great documentary film to check out:

South Africa Belongs to Us (1980) dirs. Ruth Weiss, Chris Austin, Peter Chappell

 

 

 

 

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Review of James McBride’s Kill ’em and Leave

 

kill em and leave

Kill ’em and Leave by James McBride 

So, it’s actually been a while since I finished reading James McBride’s brilliant Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul (2016)—at least a month. The biography seals, for me, my personal classification of McBride as a master storyteller.

As a child of the early 1970s, the youngest in a family where my mom was alternately a hardcore partier and a holy roller and my thoroughly teenage sister and two older brothers who pretty much left me out of everything cool I never got to truly appreciate the genius of “the hardest working man in show business”, Mr. James Brown—“Mr. Brown”, as he insisted people address him.

McBride’s biography, as much about himself as the book’s subject, didn’t make me want to watch hours of Youtube videos of Mr. Brown, although some of the feats that McBride claims for Mr. Brown have to be seen to be believed. Rather, the text left me wondering how far this country has come from the time that Mr. Brown reigned supreme as a musical icon. It also made me wonder what would be written about me once I’m no longer walking this big beautiful planet.

Essentially, the text does what truly inspired writing is meant to do: it makes you ask the bigger questions.

I spent a couple of weeks on the text, not because it was particularly challenging—it’s a quick read in many ways. Rather, I found I needed to take my time; to slow down and let the words sink in. In fact, I found myself stopping numerous times to marvel at McBride’s profound mastery of language. The man plays words like a true jazz musician plays his true instrument—which makes it only right that in addition to being a best-selling writer he is also an accomplished composer and saxophonist.

Check out his inspired website: www.jamesmcbride.com

Take these last few lines—a few of too many to count—from the book:

But there’s no guessing when I play song number 14. Their hands shoot up. Their faces light up. They hear hollering. They hear the scream. They hear the groove. They hear the tightness. And you say to yourself, They will remember him. He will make them remember him. He’s hollering from the back of the buss of history, just so they’ll know who he is. So Vanessa will know. And Cecil. And Maddy. And Laura. And Helen. And even little Ni Ni and the twins Malcolm and Malik. And in knowing who he is, maybe one day they will know who they are (228).

****

McBride tells a good part of Mr. Brown ‘s story through the artist’s relationships with other people in his life; some of them well-known, others not so much. For example, I learned that THE Reverend Al Sharpton was a protégé of Mr. Brown. And that Mr. Brown went to the aid of Michael Jackson when the money-hungry vultures descended on him with their bogus child molestation charges a few years back.

I also learned the sad truth that Mr. Brown stipulated in his will that all of his fortune be donated to educating poor children in the south. However, his money-hungry vulture family has made sure that not one dime has gone to fulfill his wishes. That hurt.

****

I have proposed that the biography is as much about Mr. McBride as it is about Mr. Brown. Indeed, McBride chooses to inextricably link their lives and their work in the text. Fortunately for us, McBride is still among us, gracing us with his genius.

The sense of their interconnectedness is most evidenced by the way that McBride ends the narrative with his own intervention on the lives of young budding musicians in loving memory of the first person he ever saw read music, Sister Helen Lee, the organist at the church that his parents founded in 1955.

If we refer back to those lines that I quote above we should note that song number 14 is by none other that the Godfather of Soul and the names that McBride lists belong to children in the music program that he started for those from the Brooklyn housing projects where he grew up. What a fitting tribute to a legend.

“Kill ’em and leave, Mr. Brown, kill ’em and leave!”

 

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They’re Walking Five Days Straight to Honor Harriet Tubman—and Black Women Everywhere

**This article is reposted from Yes! Magazine, a wonderful forum that spreads hope at a time when it may seem as if there is no hope to be had.

The women of GirlTrek are traversing 100 miles of the Underground Railroad to highlight Black female health and wellness.

girltrek

Have you ever considered the journey endured by historical freedom fighters, those in the abolitionist movement who led thousands of enslaved Africans to freedom mile by mile on foot?

One group of women has. And this week they are walking 100 miles, from sunup to sundown, in the footsteps of Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad from the eastern shore of Maryland crossing the Mason–Dixon Line into Delaware and ending at the Tubman Garrett Riverfront Park.

In honor of Tubman, the 10 women walking Harriet’s Great Escape started their five-day journey on March 6 and will finish on March 10, Harriet Tubman Day.

“A lot of people don’t realize that [day] was designated by Congress,” says Vanessa Garrison, one of the 10 women walking.

Garrison is the co-founder of GirlTrek, a national nonprofit that focuses on walking and has grown into a massive public health movement for Black women and girls. In five years, she and co-founder Morgan Dixon, with their leadership team, have motivated more than 100,000 Black women to put self-care first through walking campaigns for both their health and well-being and social justice.

Data have consistently shown that Black Americans, particularly Black women, have higher rates of illness compared to their White counterparts. Black women have the highest risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They have significant rates of mental health issues with some of the lowest levels of treatment. Forty-eight percent of Black women over age 20 have hypertension, and 57 percent of Black women are considered obese. Sexual assault and domestic violence are also high among Black women.

The GirlTrek leaders say Black women who fought for liberation—historical figures like Tubman, who was herself once enslaved and led thousands to freedom, Fannie Lou Hamer, and Ella Baker, civil rights leaders—have been their inspiration to inspire other Black women and girls.

Free yourself first, then the masses, or at least all those who are willing to come along.

Daina Ramey Berry, historian and author of The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation, says stories like Tubman’s are particularly important in our current socio-political climate.

“Harriet Tubman’s legacy of liberation embodies the American promise of freedom and justice,” Berry says. “Young Black girls and women benefit from [her] legacy because they see someone who looks like them represented and celebrated.”

For example, she says, it’s a big deal that Tubman is the first African American woman who was a former enslaved person to appear on federally sanctioned currency.

In April 2016, then-Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill when the bill is redesigned in the late 2020s. However, the current secretary under the Trump administration has hedged on that, simply saying, “Ultimately we will be looking at this issue.”

But Berry, Garrison, Dixon, and many others believe Tubman should be celebrated. There are numerous social justice organizations across the country named after Tubman. And there’s the Harriet Tubman Byway in Maryland, where visitors can drive the historic Underground Railroad route.

The GirlTrek organization has been celebrating Tubman since 2013, the centennial of her death. Their first #WeAreHarriet celebration had more than 20,000 women participate nationwide in the largest mobile tribute in the country. Through the years, the #WeAreHarriet campaign has evolved into a larger celebration filled with walks, house parties, and health-related gatherings across the country.

The women say they are leading by example, as Tubman did: Free yourself first, then the masses, or at least all those who are willing to come along.

“We will show and prove that 2018 is about radical courage and unshakeable sisterhood,” Dixon said. “To reach 1 million Black women by 2020, we knew we needed to be even bolder and hold this unprecedented trek. Harriet Tubman saved her own life first and then went back time after time to save the lives of others giving us the blueprint for the work GirlTrek does today. This is radical self-care at its core.”

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