Four out of five Black women are overweight or obese. Gwen McKinney used to be one of them.

Federal health data shows that obesity among Black women and girls is at epidemic levels, and linked to a host of chronic and deadly conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Gwen, embracing the data as a personal challenge, dropped 54 pounds and channeled that commitment into motivating and coaching women as a Weight Watchers leader.

Not by accident, a seemingly random email caught her attention. The message was about a new group that was challenging Black women to walk 100 minutes on March 10, 2013—the 100th anniversary of Harriet Tubman’s death. The nonprofit organization, GirlTrek, promotes healthy living for Black women and girls by encouraging them to incorporate walking, biking and hiking into their lifestyles.

GirlTrek had a strong narrative emanating from Tubman’s legacy as a self-emancipated woman, and effective messengers in its two founders. But with no paid staff members and less than two weeks before the event, the organization needed more hands on deck.

Seeing both the potential in GirlTrek’s messaging and a pressing need to address the obesity crisis among Black women and girls, Gwen and the McKinney team jumped into the fray. What followed was a commitment of professional communications support via a pro bono campaign to launch the walking challenge.

With the clock ticking, a multipronged approach was essential—so we merged high-tech and hightouch outreach to publicize GirlTrek’s message. The group’s collateral materials combined contemporary personal narratives with references to Tubman’s life; we capitalized on the connection to identify media targets that spoke to GirlTrek’s audience and aspirations. Our social media team revved up interest with a series of posts on the McKinney Voice Matters blog, and produced a weekly “Minute with Gwen” vlog.

The fruits of our labor included placements in The Washington Post and USA Today, the nation’s largest-circulation print newspaper, and on a nationally syndicated NPR magazine program and the D.C. affiliate WAMU. McKinney tweeted and posted upcoming media appearances and linked to interviews, which were then reposted and retweeted by the GirlTrek network.

On March 10, Team McKinney joined thousands of women as they walked from the U.S. Capitol Grounds to the Lincoln Memorial and past the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. And today, members of our staff still participate in GirlTrek events, including a recent trip to Selma to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.