Faculty, staff join STARS

Pictured are, at left, Cassonya Carter and Tiesha Hogue-Shankin. They joined STARS, a group of African American women who exercise regularly together.
Pictured are, at left, Cassonya Carter and Tiesha Hogue-Shankin. They joined STARS, a group of African American women who exercise regularly together.
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Several Grand Valley faculty and staff members have found support — and results — through their involvement with a new initiative that aims to keep African American women healthy.

Cassonya Carter, Brandi Berry-Lovelady and Tiesha Hogue-Shankin are members of STARS (Sisters Taking Action Reversing Statistics), a group of area African American women who exercise regularly to raise awareness of the health risks African Americans face such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Carter and Hogue-Shankin both learned of STARS through their sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. Others in the group are connected through various churches. The group’s founder, Aliya Armstrong, is a Grand Valley alumna and member of AKA.

Carter, senior academic advisor for the Kirkhof College of Nursing, participated in her first 5K run with STARS in early October, the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute’s Cancer Run.

“I had never run in a timed race before,” Carter said. “But there were so many people of all shapes and sizes out there doing it. I thought, ‘I can do this, too.’” She power-walked/jogged her way to a top 10 finish in her age group. “I want to do another race. Next year, I hope I can run the whole way,” Carter said.

STARS has an active Facebook group page; members post training runs, Zumba class locations and personal successes, and others respond with positive and inspirational comments.

Hogue-Shankin, paralegal for University Counsel, said she was first reluctant to join another group, but soon found it motivational.

“We’re really blessed to be there for one another,” she said. “A lot of us are parents, and we’re wearing all these different hats, but it really gets you out of bed for a run when you know you have people waiting on you.”

Hogue-Shankin said STARS groups have formed in Kalamazoo, Detroit, North Carolina and elsewhere.

Carter and other members have taken Zumba classes together. She first took Zumba classes through Grand Valley’s Health and Wellness program when serving as a health-wellness ambassador. “I feel stronger, my clothes are fitting better. It’s a method I use to de-stress and it’s helping with my Chron’s and colitis struggles.
“We want to beat the statistics, and be healthier and wiser,” she said.

Hogue-Shankin said STARS is a great group for novice runners or those new to exercise. “No one gets caught up in how many miles they run, we simply encourage one another. Our main goal is to move, if that means walk, jog or run, just move. We’re here to support everyone,” she said.