Name: Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison
Hometown: GirlTrek based in Washington D.C.
SpeakHER Greatness: Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison became fast friends in undergrad at UCLA. They bonded over music, poetry, food, and a passion for self-care. After graduating in the late ’90s and early ’00s, respectively, they embarked on their career journeys. Dixon pursued more degrees and started her career as a high school history teacher in Atlanta and later as a school administrator in Newark, New Jersey. She went on to serve as director of leadership development for Achievement First, one of the largest charter school networks in the country, and worked at the United Nations in the Office of Children and Armed Conflict, among several other things. Garrison started her career working in digital media at Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. in Atlanta, Georgia. She has also worked in criminal justice, helping formerly incarcerated women access critical services.
Both women were consistent with their passion for the communities they served, particularly Black women, and joined forces in 2010. They began challenging their friends and families to walk with them, and that is how GirlTrek was born.
The Washington D.C.-based non-profit brings together Black women from various walks of life in several cities and towns around the US in the name of good health, mindfulness, and sisterhood. Last year, GirlTrek launched its first Black History Bootcamp, a 21-day series of walking meditations to honor Black women freedom fighters such as Shirley Chisholm, Harriett Tubman, and more.
When asked what words they’d used to describe themselves, Garrison said, “eclectic, creative, caring, sophisticated, and intentional,” while Morgan added, “powerful, abundant, vibrant, hard-working and kind.”
They have a 21-day trek across the country coming up, which is part of their larger goal, according to Morgan, “to unleash this army of a million Black women for liberation and to support liberation movements, including their own.”
MadameNoire caught up with the dynamic duo to find out more about these leaders of the self-care movement for Black women.
MN: Who has been the most influential person in your life who inspired you to begin the path that you’re on today?
Vanessa: My aunt Peggy for me. My mom wasn’t able to care for me when I was younger. It was a tribe who came in to raise me. It was a model for how to care for people collectively. I’m inspired by my aunt and what she did for me. On the flip side, I’m saddened by the sacrifices she had to make on my behalf, and part of what fuels my work is trying to figure out how Black women can show up for our responsibilities and for our communities in the ways that we need to but do it without having to sacrifice so much of their personal callings and personal, kind of constitutions. It’s what my aunt had to do, not just for me but for my family. It was what my grandmother had to do before her. I’m both inspired by them but also motivated by their stories to create a different dynamic.
Morgan: For me, it’s my mom, but it feels like a strange answer to give because my mom doesn’t feel separate from the women in my family. They’re kind of a monolith. My mom is not separate from my aunt Joyce who’s not separate from my aunt Melba, who’s definitely not separate from their mother. So they’re not edges to my mom in this way where I feel like Carol Jean Morgan in her entity was what inspired me to be who I am. My mom was so deeply connected to her sisters. So the women of my family is the answer — is the reason I am who I am. My mom specifically.
MN: As a Black woman/Black femme, we are rarely allowed to take up space. What are the ways in which you find yourself purposefully doing just that?
Morgan: One of the things I’ve been working on for the last couple of years and really specifically over the last couple of months is taking up space with my opinion and my voice. I was really good at that when I was little. And then I’ve been taught slowly how to not be good at that. So I’ve been trying to just regardless — certainly, I’m kind. But regardless of how my bigness makes other people feel, I’m showing up in my fullness. My voice is the way that I’ve been trying to do it.
Vanessa: I’ve been taking up space with my time, actually. It’s part of GirlTrek’s principles, although sometimes I can practice the principles and then sometimes I’m just like everyone else in the movement where it’s like, “Today is not a good day on the principle.” But the principle we can reclaim 30 minutes of our time for self-care and that we can prioritize ourself is part of GirlTrek’s core tenants. And for me, recently that has expanded into more than 30 minutes because we need more than 30 minutes of time for ourselves these days [laughs]. I’m learning to take up that space for myself. Create routines for myself in the morning that honor what I need. Create space for myself in the evening to know when to tap out of work and just to honor that I did my best and leave the rest for the day. And to be able to do that and say the rest of it is my time to reclaim and it’s my time to claim without, in my head, what needs to get done or who I’m disappointing by not showing up for them. No, this is my time, this is my space, and in fact, it’s God’s greatest gift to me. And how I choose to use it in any single moment is actually the way I’m honoring even the divine. So I’m feeling really good about how I’m using time.
MN: What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?
Morgan: I would give the advice that much of what you read is just untrue. Most of the feedback that you get from the world is just untrue. It’s actually not about you. Because at 13 I didn’t feel very beautiful, I didn’t feel very confident. I was just in middle school trying to comb my hair the way the videos told me to comb my hair. I was just really trying and stretching myself to be something else and all that stuff was a lie. I was so beautiful at 13. I was such a beautiful little girl. I just wish people around me had helped me reflect that beauty or that I could see my beauty reflected except for in the mirror because I just didn’t really see it other places. So at 13 I would put myself on my back, fly around the world and show her examples of beauty that look like her because American media is a lie.
Vanessa: My advice to my 13-year-old self would be to trust your instinct because the instinct is ancient. I would tell my 13-year-old self to trust that. Embodying other people’s fears and doubts about myself, I learned to not trust that instinct as much. I would tell my 13-year-old self to really trust it. And I would tell 13-year-old girls in general, and I have to tell myself, it’s ok to go it alone sometimes. At 13 I understood and knew that. I had a crew, I had my girls, I was on the 13-year-old scene at the mall — whatever that scene was. And yeah, also I always kind of felt permission to go it alone for myself. To be like, everybody’s doing this, but I want to do me. I actually remember taking long walks in my neighborhood every single day after school because I would walk home from school. I would just explore, look at houses and dream about having one. I really had that exploration and I want more girls to be able to have that.
MN: What is your biggest dream for Black women/Black femmes everywhere?
Vanessa: Freedom and liberation, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word. A knowing of your core self so well and so strong that you don’t let anything shape your core. There’s lots of ways we can get there, but I want that self-freedom and liberation for Black women that allows them to detach from other people’s perception of them. That allows us to build up the necessary kind of armor around us to remove the energy of the world that isn’t supportive of us. I just want us to have freedom and liberation to move in the world as we see fit. I feel we need justice as well. I’m moving away from the idea that we can get justice from somebody else.
Morgan: For me, it would be pleasure and satisfaction. I want to feel settled. I want to feel nourished. I want to feel satisfied and complete. So the word would really be, I don’t know if it’s satisfaction or pleasure, but one of those.