‘A great contagious spirit;’ Local women come together for exercise, friendship, fellowship

DAYTON — A group of women in Dayton discovered that fellowship, friendship, and fitness are a powerful combination.

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The Melanin Walkers are a group of local women who walk laps around the Meadowdale High School track every day to better their health.

Starting at 6 a.m., every morning, almost 60 women meet up and start walking and enjoying their time together.

Leronda Jackson is the group’s facilitator, but she also considers herself the “mother hen,” as she looks after everyone and is always the first to arrive and the last to leave daily.

The group started out with 3 to 4 women, but it started to steadily increase in May. Every day Jackson counts the number of participants, and she said once they got over 30 people, it just blew up.

“We average about 30 to 50 every day. Weekends it kind of backs down a little bit, so weekends we may have 25,” Jackson said.

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The group is made for all women, not just those who are Black.

Crystal Richardson was one of the original walkers, and she said the evolution of the group has been an amazing thing to watch.

“I think it’s beautiful, a bunch of women striving to get healthy and make better decisions to promote their health,” Richardson said.

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The sisterhood amongst the Melanin Walkers is strong. Off the track, they will go out and get breakfast together, pray together, and they will check in on each other when they don’t see someone in the morning.

“It’s fun, there is no judgment, I didn’t want anyone to walk up to the track and not know anybody… so everybody is welcoming, it’s kind of like a little training we did, without the training. It’s not clique-ish and so I wanted everyone to feel comfortable,” Jackson said.

Women in the group often bring their mothers and children to join in on the fun.

Trotwood resident Janie Williams Washington was introduced to the group by her daughter who has been walking for the past few years. While walking, she is inspired daily and strives for physical wellness.

“It inspired me because I wake up every morning at 5 a.m. anyway, and I’ve been retired for 33 years… but it inspired me because when I came and saw all the young ladies and everything, and I said ‘I don’t want to be a couch potato,’ and then with me having weakness on my left side, this has really been good for me,” Williams Washington said.

Jackson coordinated the movement on Facebook by inviting and challenging her friends to come out and walk, but this year she wanted to do things a little differently.

“This year, I took a more active approach just to get Black women to get up off the couch, don’t be sedentary, get out here and walk and just see the improvements,” Jackson said.

It turned into a ripple effect and those who came brought their friends, and those participants brought their friends, leading it to expand massively.

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Trotwood resident LaJuana Curington joined the group in mid-June after her friend who is a long-time participant talked her into coming out, and ever since she has been on the track every day.

“I like the comradery, I like the fact that it’s free, it’s fun, we have a lot of fun in the morning. You can see us joking and laughing and so that’s the thing I like the most about it, and I’m also improving my health while I’m doing it,” Curington said.

Some of the positive benefits Jackson has been told about by her group members include weight loss, A1C dropping, increased circulation, and diminished thyroid issues.

“My A1C was really high, it was like 7.1 and I’ve brought it down now to 6.5, and so with every step, I’m getting healthier,” Curington said.

Dayton area resident Luree Hereford is a two-time cancer survivor, and ever since she has wanted to find a way to, “get herself together,” and that’s when she ran into the group at the African American Wellness Walk.

“My stamina, my endurance, I sleep better, my A1C is down, I just feel better, I just feel good,” Hereford said.

“I just want us to not be comfortable carrying so much weight, and I wanted us to understand what it does to the heart when it must work so much harder for blood flow. This is cardio, some people don’t think it’s cardio, but it’s cardio,” Jackson said.

Jackson wants to influence her peers to get out and walk together and become active, from the fact that Black women lead in obesity and comorbidities. Compared to their White counterparts, Black women are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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“The numbers are disproportionally not in our favor, so we have to get out here and do the work,” Jackson said.

Through the walker’s laughter, positive conversation, and encouragement, each woman strives to push each other to keep coming back every day.

“There is a narrative that Black women don’t work out, there is a narrative of our health, our numbers being higher, and we’re going to change the narrative, and so that’s what we’re out here doing today,” Jackson said.

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