The fourth annual IdaTrek in Chicago’s south side neighborhood of Bronzeville took place earlier this year on Saturday, July 27, 2019. Tara L. Campbell, Sandria Washington and I organized the two-mile walk as one of the many walks coordinated by the organization GirlTrek. “The goal of the walk was to introduce some and present to others the life and legacy of Ida B. Wells as a superhero, as one of our many foremothers in the Civil Rights Movement,” Campbell explained. Wells is most known as a pioneering journalist, civil rights activist, suffragist, and a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She lived, worked, and raised her family in Bronzeville for over 35 years. Participants in the walk enjoyed a family-friendly and community-oriented activity on the same ground that Wells once walked.
IdaTrek2019’s route included her home, a national historic landmark; a newly installed historical marker that commemorates the former public housing complex named after her; the recently renamed street, Ida B. Wells Drive; and intentionally ended in a plaza area at 37th and Langley, which is the future site of the Ida B. Wells monument.
Not only did the weather cooperate by providing a beautiful day, but it was also a spiritually and physically powerful occasion. Approximately 50 people of all ages and genders participated. Most were from the Chicago area, but others came from as far away as California and Mississippi. In addition, one woman drove several hours from Peoria, Illinois with her young sons in order to participate. LyghtSkin (Reggie Barnes II) provided drumming for the group during the walk and Leslé Honoré read her powerful poem, “Seats at the Table,” at the end of the walk. The group blessed the space and reflected on the life of Ida B. Wells.
The walk developed out of a partnership with GirlTrek. Vanessa Garrison and Morgan Dixon, who met in college in Los Angeles, started GirlTrek in 2010 and obtained nonprofit status in 2012. Writer and health advocate Sandra Washington became involved with the organization that same year after reading an article in Heart & Soul magazine. Following the sudden death of her mother, she had a strong desire to take her health more seriously and she eagerly organized a walking team, which introduced the GirlTrek movement to Chicagoland. She served as Chicago’s first City Captain and has held various organizer roles over the years. “It has been a beautiful journey,” Washington said, “to watch the evolution of GirlTrek for the past seven years. It is exciting to be part of something that makes a real impact on the lives of Black women through a simple act of walking.” The organization strives to reinforce the fact that Black women have the answers within themselves to change their own lives and communities.
Tara Campbell got involved with GirlTrek in 2015 after answering a nationwide recruitment call. She has worked for over 20 years organizing programs and is involved in outreach and advocacy work. The role as an organizer for GirlTrek thus came naturally — to inspire women in all walks of life to join a band of sisters who want to make a change for themselves, their families and their communities by “just” taking a walk. Campbell embraced the mantra “When women walk, things change.”
As a Zumba instructor in the Oakwood Shores community of Bronzeville, she developed relationships and worked closely with the staff on various initiatives to engage the community. Campbell first formed the idea of IdaTrek in 2016 after a conversation with Khari Humphries, who worked at The Community Builders. Shortly thereafter, Campbell and Washington joined forces to organize the walks and an enthusiastic group has participated every year.
The success of this year’s walk has encouraged the organizers to expand as they plan for IdaTrek2020. They hope to add more sites associated with the life of Ida B. Wells and develop educational information about them. In addition to their plans for the walking route, they also want to encourage local businesses and organizations to get involved. They envision developing partnerships with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District that will attract thousands of women and girls to fill the recently renamed downtown street of Ida B. Wells Drive.
They also hope their tribute to Ida B. Wells on July 16, her birthday, will expand to all locations where Ida B. Wells lived — Holly Springs, Mississippi; Memphis, Tennessee; and Brooklyn, New York before eventually spreading across the nation. As one of the many walks coordinated by GirlTrek, IdaTrek embodies a focus on health, community, and heritage. The organizers want to help change and inspire people’s lives, one step at a time.
About the Author
Michelle Duster is an award-winning author, speaker, and educator. Her professional background includes two decades of writing in advertising and marketing communications. Since 2008 she has written, edited and contributed to nine books and dozens of articles. She is active with several committees to develop city, state, and national public history projects that focus on the contributions African Americans and women made to the United States, including her paternal great-grandmother, civil rights icon Ida B. Wells.