Vanessa Garrison, co-founder of the GirlTrek walking and health movement for Black women, was the keynote speaker of Black Women Get Fit in Kansas City.

The fifth anniversary Black Women Get Fit event on Oct. 15 was a full-circle moment for event organizer Terri Barnes.  

In 2018, a friend she was walking with told her the founders of GirlTrek, a national walking organization for Black women, were coming to Kansas City to recruit women to join the organization. 

To help build enthusiasm for the founders’ visit, they called on their friends who taught fitness and held the first “Black Women Get Fit,” which drew a crowd of 200 participants. 

It turned out, the founders didn’t make it to Kansas City that year, but this year, the circle will be complete.  

 GirlTrek co-founder Vanessa Garrison, was the keynote speaker at fifth anniversary  Black Girls Get Fit, an event she helped inspire five years before.  

From that first year with 200 attendees, Black Women Get Fit has drawn into an inspirational and motivating event attracting as many as 400 participants in its Precovid iterations.  This year’s crowd was down some, but the quality of the event offerings – all free – was incredible. 

Attendees had a selection of 29 unique offerings around the event’s three pillars – mind, six options; body, 16 options; and soul, 6 options. The bad news was each participant could only select three sessions to participate in. Lunch, where Garrison was the speaker, was the final session of the day.

Black Women Get Fit – the Ultimate Day Party, Oct. 15 in Kansas City’s Jazz District,  will have 29 unique offerings focused on mind, body and soul. 

The event used the 18th and Vine Jazz district as a campus for the event, with ladies moving between venues within the district for their sessions.  Participants chatted and compared notes obsessions as they traveled between the venues that included the Major League Baseball Youth Baseball Academy, Gregg Klice Recreation Center, offices of the Porter House, the Lincoln Building, the Jazz Museum, the Black Archives and the Mutual Musicians Foundation. Barnes is pleased that so many organizations opened their doors for the event, which she says gives some of the participants their first exposure to the event was many of the lady’s greater exposure to what the district has to offer.  

GirlTrek Goal

Garrison’s participation at the conference helped attract GirlTrek members from both Wichita and Kansas City to the event.  Launched nationally in 2012, GirlTrek’s original goal was to get 1 million Black women walking by  2015.  They didn’t make their original date, but today, the organization has surpassed their original goal, and Garrison shared the organization’s newest objective – to increase the life expectancy of Black women by 10 years by 2035.  

Garrison sees walking as a great place for women to let their minds roam free and dream…” for women to transform themselves from the inside out.  

“Walk outside with the curiosity of your own spirit,” she said.  

As you walk, she said explore, “Who am I when I have time to show up in my biggest boldest self?  Who would I be if I didn’t have limitations?  Allow yourself to dream.”  

The Nia Project 

For the first three years, Black Women was a project put on by Barnes and a supportive network of friends and generous workshop presenters, without a formal organization. The expenses for the free event were mostly paid out of their pockets.  Two years ago, she formed the Nia Project to serve as the official organizer of Black Women Get Fit, with the vision of sponsoring more activities around Black women’s wellness.  

“I’m very interested in just us holistically being well, as far as the jobs that we get – we’re not getting your fair share in that space – and being able to take care of our families,” said Barnes. “ There’s a much broader goal with the Nia Project.”  

While Barnes expects Black Women Get Fit to remain the signature project of the Nia Project, “the organization  will specifically explore and examine the quality of life for Black women in Kansas City, with an overall goal of increasing awareness, support and outcomes.”

In addition, the Nia Project will focus on improving outcomes for Black girls, another passion area for Barnes.  For 15 years, while still holding down a full-time corporate job, she operated a non-profit mentoring program for Black girls called Tracy’s Place.  Now that she’s retired, she’s excited about returning to her programming for Black girls, with a goal of achieving more positive outcomes.   

The Community Voice was a corporate sponsor of Black Women Get Fit.  

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Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...