Cheered on by some of the world’s top health, political and sports leaders, athletes and entertainers, thousands of people walked, ran and rolled through New York’s Central Park early on 17 September to celebrate healthy lifestyles and pursuit of the goal of Health for All.
The second edition of the Walk the Talk New York: Health for All Challenge was held on the eve of the United Nations General Assembly High-level Week, and opened by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization and Mayor Eric Adams of New York City.
“We want everybody to move, and that’s why you’re here,” Dr Tedros told the assembled exercisers prior to the event on a crisp, clear morning.
Dr Tedros urged the participants to continue advocating for the importance of health “because health is not a luxury; it is a human right – for everyone.”
That message did not have to travel far to reach a key audience. On Sunday, leaders from around the world and their entourages were gathering for a week of High-level meetings two miles away at UN headquarters in New York. Topics at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA78) were to include how best to prepare for, prevent and respond to future pandemics; how to speed progress towards universal health coverage; and how to eliminate tuberculosis.
But “talk alone is not enough,” Tedros said, adding that “countries need to walk the talk by showing commitment and taking action.”
Sunday’s event in Central Park was intended to serve as a healthy kick-off to UNGA78 as well as to mark WHO’s 75th anniversary.
Mayor Adams presented himself as an example of the value of walking the talk – from exercising regularly to eating healthily.
Adams said he “turned around” his own health status – which had included type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure – by increasing his exercise and by changing his diet to include more plant-based foods.
He recalled that his mother had died after having had a difficult time finding good-quality health care. “We don’t have to live like this,” he said. “Health is wealth.”
Amy Pope, the Director-General-elect of the International Organization for Migration, said migrants “are part of the solution.” She noted that migrants played key roles around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic in ensuring that critical work got done.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach noted that sports are good for mental health and physical health and described his organization as a long-time partner and friend of WHO. Mr Bach was joined by leading U.S. break dancer Sunny Choi who is vying to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics, and who spoke about the importance of mental health.
The speeches were complemented by generous portions of music and dance – all intended to move the audience both spiritually and physically.
Entertainers included hip hop legend Doug E. Fresh, Grammy Award-winning musician Ricky Kej, iconic singer Kim Sledge of Sister Sledge, Rwanda-born British global dance superstar and choreographer Sherrie Silver and the Global Scrub Choir of health workers.
During the event, Dr Tedros recognized the Director-General’s health champions of 2023.
Sherrie Silver was awarded “in recognition of outstanding advocacy in the promotion of physical activity for better health;”
Mayor Adams was awarded “in recognition of outstanding leadership and action in the promotion of physical and mental health for the people of New York City;”
Kim Sledge Allen was awarded “in recognition of outstanding advocacy in the promotion of physical and mental health;”
Ricky Kej was awarded “in recognition of outstanding advocacy in the support of the Rehabilitation 2030 and Make Listening Safe initiatives;” and
Doug E. Fresh was awarded “in recognition of outstanding leadership and advocacy in health promotion for underserved communities.”
Partners included the New York City Health Commissioner, UHC Partnership, the International Olympic Committee, Global Citizen, The Carter Center and Hip Hop Public Health, a New York-based health promotion body associated with the American Public Health Association.
WHO first hosted the Walk the Talk event in Central Park in 2019, with plans for the event to be an annual one. The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in early 2020, led officials to delay implementation of those plans until this year.
But they are back on track now, with the third Walk the Talk planned for 2024, said Stewart Simonson, WHO’s Assistant Director-General responsible for the WHO Office at the United Nations.