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19 Sisters Shaping the Conversation Around Black Women and Exercise

They are movers, shakers, makers and record breakers. We love how they bring fitness, freedom and fun to the way we live, breathe, move and take up space.

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Sisters Staff
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Not just a buzzword, wellness is a way of life, providing an opportunity for not only overall health but self-care and self-love, too. Unfortunately, this space hasn’t always been welcoming to women of color. Black women, though, are resilient, often making a way out of no way. The 19 women on this list are no different. They have broken down barriers in this arena, as well as having been intentional about creating new wellness-centered spaces that are not only safe and empowering but that honor and reflect who we are at our core: beautiful. From celebrity trainers to media executives to professional athletes, these are the women using their platforms to not only impact Black women but to revolutionize the way we practice, embrace and lead in the world of wellness. Prepare yourself to be inspired!

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Angela Manuel-Davis, 47

The co-founder and chief motivational officer of AARMY, an in-person and online training platform, spent years as a Los Angeles SoulCycle instructor, turning a 45-minute class into a “spiritual experience” popular among A-listers like Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Kerry Washington. Oprah Winfrey booked Manuel-Davis on her “The Life You Want” tour and “20/20 Vision” tour. Known for motivational quips such as “Regardless of how challenging or hard things are, you still have to do the thing you were created to do,” Manuel-Davis uses fitness to transform bodies and minds.

(IG @AngelaManuelDavis; Twitter @ShapeWithAngela)

Amy DuBois Barnett, 52

Barnett is a top media executive who recently landed a gig as the first chief content officer of Outside Interactive, Inc. Translation: The outdoors enthusiast — she has trekked the Andes, kayaked to a glacier in Iceland and visited 34 national parks — will oversee editorial operations for all the company’s 30-plus titles, opening the great outdoors to a broader scope of people. In her words: “I hope to build an international community … for athletes, passionate outdoor adventurers and all people who are interested in living an active and healthy lifestyle.”

(IG @AmyDuboisBarnett; Twitter @AmyDBarnett)

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Nicole Ari Parker, 51

According to JAMA Dermatology, nearly 40 percent of Black women avoid working out because of their hair. Parker was one of them and wanted to change that. “I was trying to solve a very personal problem, as a Black woman who invests so much in her hair,” she was once quoted as saying. Enter Gymwrap, the And Just Like That … actress’s sweat-wicking headband, which helps keep hair dry and intact during your sweat sessions. Work out and keep your hair looking fly? Yes, please!

(IG @NicoleAriParker; Twitter @NicoleAriP)

Halle Berry, 55

Berry’s chiseled frame in Bruised, her directorial debut, is proof she’s into fitness. In fact, the Oscar-winning actress, who was diagnosed with diabetes at 22, has become something of a wellness guru, sharing training tips alongside her long-time trainer Peter Lee Thomas, as well has her overall fitness philosophy, via her Instagram page. She even launched a digital health and wellness company, rē•spin, in 2020 out of a “desire to connect with others through health, wellness, and spirituality,” the brand’s website says.

(IG @HalleBerry; Twitter @HalleBerry)

Courtesy of Mirna Valerio

Mirna Valerio, 46

What started as a blog about being an active larger girl in a thinner world turned Valerio, a former teacher and the author of A Beautiful Work in Progress, into a champion for and inspiration to runners of all shapes and sizes. The ultramarathoner and Lululemon ambassador is unapologetic about wanting to diversify running, once saying: “Because of my size and race, I am hyper-visible. It says, ‘I belong in this space.’ You will not see me as a nuisance. You will accustom yourself to seeing me here, in ‘your’ neighborhood, in my neighborhood … at a race, on a trail, on top of a mountain.”

(IG @TheMirnavator; Twitter @TheMirnavator)

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T. Morgan Dixon, 45, and Vanessa Garrison, 44

While attending college in Los Angeles, Dixon and Garrison met and instantly clicked. Their friendship would lay the foundation for a national health movement centered on Black women and walking. Founded in 2010, GirlTrek has amassed more than 1 million devotees across the United States dedicated to fighting health inequities and providing radical self-care by putting themselves and their health first. And GirlTrek’s 21-day Black History Bootcamp podcasts, which highlight Black history makers (think Claudette Colvin, Audre Lorde, Anita Hill), are an educational tool that makes daily walks of at least 30 minutes that much more enjoyable.

(IG @GirlTrek, @MorganTreks, @VanessaTreks; Twitter @GirlTrek, @MorganTreks, @VanessaTreks)

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Ernestine Shepherd, 85

Simply put, Shepherd is proof that age is just a number. Despite getting into fitness when she was in her mid-50s, Shepherd did not let that stop her from getting in the best shape of her life. At one time, she even held the Guinness World Records title for oldest living female bodybuilder. Shepherd, who sports a signature gray braided ponytail, pays it forward by teaching Zoom strength classes.

(IG @ ShepherdErnestine; Twitter @MsErnieShepherd)

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Allyson Felix, 36

When Felix’s former sponsor, Nike, cut her pay after the birth of her daughter, Camryn, the athlete got vocal. “I asked Nike to contractually guarantee that I wouldn’t be punished if I didn’t perform at my best in the months surrounding childbirth … Nike declined,” Felix wrote in a New York Times op-ed. This denial only fueled the desire of the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete (Felix has 11 Olympic medals) to champion for the rights of mother-athletes. The Saysh founder has worked to alleviate barriers by developing, along with her current sponsor, Athleta, and the Women’s Sports Foundation, the Child Care Grant in 2021, a $200,000 fund intended to help moms in sports take care of childcare expenses while traveling.

(IG @AllysonFelix; Twitter @AllysonFelix)

Chelsea Jackson Roberts, Ph.D., 43

Roberts has made it her life’s mission to study the positive impact that yoga has on communities and bring the practice to them. An expert in slow-flow and restorative, the Dayton, Ohio, native is the founder of Red Clay Yoga as well as the Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp at Spelman College, her alma mater, for girls ages 13 to 17. Since 2020, Roberts has work as a Peloton yoga and meditation instructor, which affords her a larger platform to help defy stereotypes often associated with yogis as well as an expanded community.

(IG @ChelseaLovesYoga; Twitter @ChelseaJaya)

Courtesy of Chrissy King

Chrissy King

Remember the song “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story” from the Broadway show Hamilton? Well, King, a writer, speaker and strength coach, is one of the women you want when it comes to telling the story of inclusivity in fitness. Her goal: to get people to think of fitness as more than just a weight-loss tool to find happiness. In her words, on her official web page, the creator of the Body Liberation Project says she works to “empower individuals to stop shrinking, start taking up space and using their energy to create their specific magic in the world.”

(IG @IAmChrissyKing; Twitter @IAmChrissyKing)

Ashlee Lawson Green, Jasmine Nesi, Dominique Burton, Stephani Franklin, Na’Tasha Jones and Natalie Robinson

Together these six women founded RUNGRL, a digital wellness space and community, in 2018, proving that the running community is stronger together. From running coaches and pro runners to subject-matter experts and everyday athletes, RUNGRL uses the stories and expertise of Black women to inspire and promote wellness in the community, uplift Black women runners and change the existing narrative on what it means to be a runner.

(IG @Rungrlco, @AshleeSimone, @j_nesi, @Hello.Nique , @stf4short, @RatherBeEating)

Erin Brown

Brown, who was diagnosed with bone cancer during college, is an inspiration not only to other amputee athletes, but to all women. The former track athlete-turned-triathlete is a Paralympian. Through her firm Erin Brown Connects, Brown, whose nickname is “Bionic,” fights for disability equity and inclusion in wellness. Last year, she told the Pan American Health Organization: “Being disabled is not a downgrade. It is just an opportunity to rebrand yourself to yourself and to society.” 

(IG @ErinBrownConnects; Twitter @ErinBrwnConnect)

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Jacqueline “Jacqie” McWilliams

A member of Hampton’s 1988 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II Women’s Basketball national championship team and the 1987 and 1990 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Volleyball championship teams, McWilliams turned her passion for college sports into a lifelong career. Currently she is breaking glass ceilings as the first female to serve as commissioner for the CIAA and the first appointed African American commissioner representing NCAA Division I, II or III.

(IG @CIAACommish; Twitter @CIAACommish)