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Walking the Walk

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Talking and Walking

Avery launched Walking for Wellness with the help of Wilma Rudolph, the legendary black sprinter who won three gold medals in the 1960 Olympics and died of brain cancer in 1995. The first walk took place in Eatonville, Fla., a tiny all-black town that is the home of the writer Zora Neale Hurston. Today, Walking for Wellness has groups in cities such as Houston, New Orleans, and New York.

For many black women, health problems "are just not something, traditionally, that you talk about," Avery says. But for women who walk with partners or in groups, walking offers a chance to discuss their health concerns, says Avery, who won a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1989 for her work on community health issues and has served as a visiting fellow at the School of Public Health at Harvard University.

Akua Budu-Watkins, 51, can testify to the power of talking and walking: A project manager in Detroit, she says she has lost 30 pounds since she started walking regularly about two years ago.

More importantly, she's acquired a group of "walking sisters" who don't let her slack off even when things get rough. This happened recently when Budu-Watkins became overwhelmed by the demands of her job along with her role as primary caretaker for her 85-year-old mother and two aunts, aged 87 and 70.

After Budu-Watkins stopped showing up for her group walks, her "walking sisters" showed up at her office, clad in walking shoes and demanding to know when she was going to start exercising again.

The visit worked: Though it took a few weeks for Budu-Watkins to get back on track, now she walks twice a week in the neighborhood near her home in downtown Detroit. Sometimes it takes a sister, she says, to teach a black woman to pay attention to her own needs.

"What I've learned throughout the years is that we really negate ourselves," says Budu-Watkins. "We're so busy taking care of our children, our jobs, our man -- we don't take care of ourselves." That's where group walks can make all the difference.

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