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How the Co-Founder and COO of @GirlTrek prioritizes her health while leading a movement

by christinecauthen

Photo: Courtesy of Vanessa Garrison

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“I think it’s a life calling,” says Vanessa Garrison, co-founder and COO of GirlTrek, “Morgan and I are friends who met in college in Los Angeles. I was working in digital media, she in education reform, and we were two Black women who were from different vantage points, but who both experienced the health crisis facing Black women. We were working on a personal trajectory and saw there was a need in general.”

GirlTrek is the largest public health nonprofit for Black women and girls in the U.S. They work to motivate these women to use walking to start living healthy lifestyles and to instill those habits in their families and communities. 

“The plan is to mobilize one million Black women to walk by 2018,” she says. “It’s a revolution centered on Black women. We are grassroots organizers who focus on local women and local solutions.”

“My official title is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, but what I call myself is Chief Inspirer,” she says. “I try to live the GirlTrek mission out loud, through the ups and the downs, to encourage Black women to live healthy lives. I hope I inspire women to prioritize self-care by modeling it myself.”

Outside of work

“I love that I live in such a walkable, culturally-rich city like D.C. with so many great places to explore through walking,” says Vanessa.

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Outside of her walks, she’s also into running, cycling, bike touring and she loves hiking national parks. But on the flipside, for balance, Vanessa also loves sitting at home, cooking fried chicken and watching reality TV like “Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “Love & Hip Hop.” 

“Luckily, GirlTrek is my friends and family,” Vanessa says of her work environment. “I am fortunate that I work with eight brilliant Black women each day. Morgan, GirlTrek co-founder and Chief of Programs, is literally my BFF, and that’s amazing. Where I struggle is that my family lives across the country in Seattle so whenever I have a work trip on the west coast I definitely make time for a visit with them.”

Taking care of her

“For me, self-care first starts with a daily physical activity,” says Vanessa. “In the morning, I’ll put in headphones and make a playlist and dedicate at least 45 minutes to walking or running.”

Then, it’s time for her to get ready to take on the day.

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“Every morning I have a routine,” she says, “I’m obsessed with baby powder, but some kinds are toxic, so I use Burt’s Bee’s Non-Talc Powder. For all the women in my family, we have a morning ritual passed down from my grandmother, where we lotion up our bodies getting all the ashy parts. Every morning, I use a really thick Vitamin E body butter.”

She keeps her makeup simple, but loves MAC’s Coppertone blush for a gorgeous glow. She’ll finish off her look with mascara —  Too Faced’s Better Than Sex or LANCÔME’s Hypnôse Drama — and a bold lip — MAC’s Just Add Romance velvet lip pencil is a discontinued favorite of hers, but Ruby Woo is a timeless classic.

When Vanessa is  running, she loves to listen to trap music like Jeezy, Gucci Mane and T.I., but during the day when she works she’ll listen to praise and worship music like Kirk Franklin and BeBe and CeCe Winans

“It’s always kind of playing in the office,” she says. “So I get to center myself in positive energy.”

She packs Korres lip butter in pomegranate with her throughout the day and keeps Bobbi Brown’s pot rouge cheek stain in chocolate cherry in her bag for her lips and cheeks in case she has a meeting or somewhere to go where she wants to pull herself together quickly.

The evening time is when Vanessa unwinds and recharges.

“Every evening I make time for prayer. It’s important for me to take stock of where I’m at. I try to have a gratitude moment, express that I’m thankful I’m here and have blessings. I pray a lot. I’m also a big scent person. I always have candles going, everyday. And even if I’m just staying home in my PJs, I shower, powder, perfume and lotion. It makes me feel relaxed.”

Her nighttime routine is longer than her morning routine, and she showers in the AM and at night. She loves to use a good serum and night cream on her face. Her current favorites are the Kiehl’s Night Serum and Belif’s Aqua Bomb Moisturizer.

“Then I use a good eye cream,” Vanessa says. “I’m using Skinceuticals now.”

But no matter what your routine is, Vanessa swears by self-care.

“Take 30 minutes a day to yourself for self-care, alone by yourself,” she says. “It’s critical.”

Walking as a revolutionary act of self-care

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Vanessa and co-founder Morgan recently brought the GirlTrek mission to the global stage at TED 2017 in Vancouver. “Walking as a revolutionary act of self-care” is a soul-stirring conversation between two friends about the state of Black women's health, the historic root causes that have lead to an epidemic health crisis and the powerful solution that has inspired thousands of Black women to take to the streets to heal their communities. Watch the video here

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To learn more about GirlTrek, visit GirlTrek.org and follow the mission on Twitter and Facebook!