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  • T. Morgan Dixon: I would like to tell you about the most powerful woman

  • you've never heard of.

  • This is Septima Clark.

  • Remember her name: Septima Clark.

  • Dr. King called her the \"the architect of the civil rights movement,\"

  • because she created something called Citizenship Schools.

  • And in those schools, she taught ordinary women the practical skills

  • to go back into their communities and teach people to read.

  • Because if they could read,

  • they could vote.

  • Well, these women took those organizing skills,

  • and they became some of the most legendary civil rights activists

  • this country has ever seen.

  • Women like Diane Nash.

  • You may know her.

  • She orchestrated the entire walk from Selma to Montgomery.

  • She was a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,

  • and they integrated lunch counters,

  • and they created the Freedom Rides.

  • Or you may remember Fannie Lou Hamer,

  • who sat on the floor of the Democratic National Convention

  • and talked about being beaten in jail cells

  • as she registered people to vote in Mississippi.

  • And her most famous student,

  • Rosa Parks.

  • She said Septima Clark was the one who taught her

  • the peaceful act of resistance.

  • And when she sat down,

  • she inspired a nation to stand.

  • These were just three of her 10,000 students.

  • These women stood on the front lines of change,

  • and by doing so,

  • they taught people to read in her Citizenship School model

  • and empowered 700,000 new voters.

  • And that's not it.

  • She created a new culture of social activism.

  • Pete Seeger said it was Septima Clark who changed the lyrics

  • to the old gospel song

  • and made the anthem we all know:

  • \"We Shall Overcome.\"

  • Vanessa Garrison: Now, many of you may know us.

  • We are the cofounders of GirlTrek,

  • the largest health organization for Black women in America.

  • Our mission is simple:

  • ask Black women,

  • 80 percent of whom are over a healthy body weight,

  • to walk outside of their front door every day

  • to establish a lifesaving habit of walking;

  • in doing so, ignite a radical movement

  • in which Black women reverse the devastating impacts

  • of chronic disease,

  • reclaim the streets of their neighborhoods,

  • create a new culture of health for their families

  • and stand on the front lines for justice.

  • Today, all across America,

  • more than 100,000 Black women are wearing this GirlTrek blue shirt

  • as they move through their communities --

  • a heroic force.

  • We walk in the footsteps of Septima Clark.

  • She gave us a blueprint for change-making.

  • One, to have a bold idea,

  • bigger than anyone is comfortable with.

  • To two: root down in the cultural traditions of your community

  • and lean heavily on what has come before.

  • To three: name it --

  • that one thing that everyone is willing to work hard for;

  • a ridiculously simple goal that doesn't just benefit the individual

  • but the village around them.

  • And to, lastly:

  • never ask permission to save your own life.

  • It is our fundamental right as human beings

  • to solve our own problems.

  • TMD: So to the women all out there gathered in your living rooms,

  • rooting for us, acting crazy on social media right now --

  • we see you.

  • (Laughter)

  • We see you every day. We love you.

  • You are not alone,

  • and our bigger work starts now.

  • VG: You got us onto this stage --

  • your leadership;

  • auditing blighted streets in Detroit;

  • working with hospitals and health care systems in Harlem;

  • praying over the streets of Sacramento, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Flint

  • and every community that has seen trauma;

  • changing traffic patterns, making your streets safer;

  • and most importantly,

  • standing as role models.

  • And it all started with your commitment to start walking,

  • your agreement to organize your friends and family

  • and your belief in our broader mission.

  • TMD: It's important to me that everyone in this room understands

  • exactly how change-making works in GirlTrek.

  • One well-trained organizer has the power to change the behavior

  • of 100 of her friends.

  • We know that is true,

  • because the [1,000] women blowing up social media right now

  • have already inspired over 100,000 women to walk.

  • (Applause)

  • But that is not nearly enough.

  • And so our goal is to create critical mass.

  • And in order to do that,

  • we have an audacious plan to scale our intervention.

  • A thousand organizers is not enough.

  • GirlTrek is going to create the next Citizenship School.

  • And in doing so, we will train 10,000 frontline health activists

  • and deploy them into the highest-need communities in America.

  • Because when we do, we will disrupt disease;

  • we will create a new culture of health.

  • And what we will do is create a support system

  • for one million Black women to walk to save their own lives.

  • (Applause)

  • And our training is unparalleled.

  • I just want you to imagine.

  • It's like a revival, tent-like festival,

  • not unlike the civil rights movement teach-ins.

  • And we're going to go all across the country.

  • It is the biggest announcement this week:

  • Vanessa and I and a team of masterful teachers,

  • all to culminate next year,

  • on sacred ground,

  • in Selma, Alabama,

  • to create a new annual tradition that we are calling \"Summer of Selma.\"

  • VG: Summer of Selma will be an annual pilgrimage

  • that will include a walk --

  • 54 miles,

  • the sacred route from Selma to Montgomery.

  • It will also include rigorous training.

  • Picture it,

  • as women come to learn organizing and recruitment strategies,

  • to study exercise science,

  • to take nutrition classes,

  • to learn storytelling,

  • to become certified as outdoor trip leaders

  • and community advocates.

  • TMD: This is going to be unprecedented.

  • It's going to be a moment in time like a cultural institution,

  • and in fact,

  • it's going to be the Woodstock of Black Girl Healing.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • VG: And the need --

  • it's more urgent than ever.

  • We are losing our communities' greatest resource.

  • Black women are dying in plain sight.

  • And not only is no one talking about it,

  • but we refuse to acknowledge

  • that the source of this crisis is rooted in the same injustice

  • that first propelled the civil rights movement.

  • On December 30 of 2017,

  • Erica Garner,

  • the daughter of Eric Garner,

  • a Black man who died on the streets of New York

  • from a police choke hold,

  • passed away of a heart attack.

  • Erica was just 27 years old,

  • the mother of two children.

  • She would be one of 137 Black women that day --

  • more than 50,000 in the last year --

  • to die from a heart-related issue,

  • many of their hearts broken from trauma.

  • The impacts of stress on Black women

  • who send their children and spouses out the door each day,

  • unsure if they will come home alive;

  • who work jobs where they are paid 63 cents to every dollar paid to white men;

  • who live in communities with crumbling infrastructure

  • with no access to fresh fruits or vegetables;

  • with little to no walkable or green spaces --

  • the impact of this inequality is killing Black women

  • at higher and faster rates than any other group in the country.

  • But that is about to change.

  • It has to.

  • TMD: So let me tell you a story.

  • About three weeks ago --

  • many of you may have watched --

  • Vanessa and I and a team of 10 women walked 100 miles

  • on the actual Underground Railroad.

  • We did it in five days --

  • five long and beautiful days.

  • And the world watched.

  • Three million people watched the live stream.

  • Some of you in here, the influencers, shared the story.

  • Urban Radio blasted it across the country.

  • VG: Even the E! News channel interrupted a story about the Kardashians --

  • which, if you asked us, is just a little bit of justice --

  • (Laughter)

  • to report that GirlTrek had made it safely on our hundred-mile journey.

  • (Applause)

  • TMD: People were rooting for us.

  • And they were rooting for us because in this time of confusion and contention,

  • this journey allowed us all to reflect on what it meant to be American.

  • We saw America up close and personal as we walked.

  • We walked through historic towns,

  • through dense forest,

  • past former plantations.

  • And one day,

  • we walked into a gas station that was also a café,

  • and it was filled with men.

  • They were wearing camo and had hunting supplies.

  • And out front were all of their trucks, and one had a Confederate flag.

  • And so we left the establishment.

  • And as we were walking along this narrow strip of road,

  • a few of the trucks reared by us so close,

  • and out of their tailpipe was the specter of mob violence.

  • It was unnerving.

  • But then it happened.

  • Right on the border of Maryland and Delaware,

  • we saw a man standing by his truck.

  • The tailgate was down.

  • He had on a brown jacket.

  • He was standing there awkwardly.

  • The first two girls in our group, Jewel and Sandria,

  • they walked by because he looked suspicious.

  • (Laughter)

  • But the bigger group, we stopped to give him a chance.

  • And he walked up to us and he said,

  • \"Hi, my name is Jake Green.

  • I heard you on Christian radio this morning,

  • and God told me to bring you supplies.\"

  • He brought us water,

  • he brought us granola,

  • and he brought us tissue.

  • And we needed tissue because we had just walked through a nor'easter;

  • it was 29 degrees, it was sleeting on our faces.

  • Our sneakers and our socks were frozen and wet and frozen again.

  • We needed that tissue more than he could have possibly understood.

  • So on that day, in that moment,

  • Jake Green renewed my faith in God for sure,

  • but he renewed my faith in humanity.

  • We have a choice to make.

  • In America, we can fall further into the darkness of discord, or not.

  • And I am here to tell you

  • that the women of GirlTrek are walking through the streets

  • with a light that cannot be extinguished.

  • VG: They are also walking through the streets with a mission

  • as clear and as powerful as the women who marched in Montgomery:

  • that disease stops here,

  • that trauma stops here.

  • And with your support

  • and in our ancestors' footsteps,

  • these 10,000 newly trained activists will launch the largest health revolution

  • this country has ever seen.

  • And they will return to their communities and model the best of human flourishing.

  • And we --

  • we will all celebrate.

  • Because like Jake Green understood,

  • our fates are intertwined.

  • Septima Clark once said,

  • \"The air has finally gotten to a place where we can breathe it together.\"

  • And yet,

  • the haunting last words of Eric Garner were: \"I can't breathe.\"

  • And his daughter Erica died at 27 years old,

  • still seeking justice.

  • So we --

  • we're going to keep doing Septima's work

  • until her words become reality,

  • until Black women are no longer dying,

  • until we can all breathe the air together.

  • Thank you.

  • (Applause)

T. Morgan Dixon: I would like to tell you about the most powerful woman