National nonprofit GirlTrek led a twenty-something-strong procession down the streets of Brownsville today to coax black female voters to the polls for the presidential election. The group convened at Bristol Street at noon across from Betsy Head Park and trekked the four blocks to a polling site at the Tilden Community Center.
GirlTrek, which aims to encourage civic engagement, personal fitness and community relations through walking, launched the Black Girl Justice League in August to recruit black women to train and lead walks to the polls on Election Day. In the last presidential election in 2012, black women emerged as a formidable voting bloc, posting a higher turnout than any other demographic with 76 percent of eligible black women voters casting ballots.
“We don’t necessarily have a challenge with voter registration in our community,” said Sharon Marshall-Taylor, a GirlTrek member who leads Saturday morning walks in Canarsie, “but our challenge is with voter turnout. We thought this was a great way to introduce physical activity and marry it with civic engagement.”
The New York City Department of Health partnered with GirlTrek to increase participation in today’s walk, with several staff members donning bright blue GirlTrek t-shirts and comfortable walking shoes. Brandi Howard, director of The Community Action Network of Healthy Start Brooklyn, was among them.
“What I value about GirlTrek is it’s movement-based and it’s about walking, and clearly we’re health folks so we’re all about walking,” she said. “We recognize as government that it’s important for our residents to be engaged with public servants.”
GirlTrek set up the Black Girl Justice League as an ode to the black freedom fighters who vied for women’s suffrage and voting rights for African-Americans. In the last two election cycles, black women voters gained a reputation for urging family and friends to the polls, popularizing the term “sista vote.”
Marshall-Taylor said she sees the trend prevail on social media, with her African-American female friends posting photos to Facebook and Instagram after casting their vote this morning. “They just want to model being civically engaged,” she said, “knowing it is their duty to vote and exercising their hard-won right to do so.”