COLUMBUS, Ohio â€” The 18th annual National African American Male Wellness Walk/Run began Saturday morning intending to bridge the health gap for minorities communities, particularly with Black men.

"Why is the walk important? The walk is important because it allows us to shrink the equity gap as it relates to the African American community, particularly with African American men. African American men are more likely to die younger, therefore this gives us the opportunity to increase the lifespan of African American men," said National African American Male Wellness Agency Founder John H. Gregory in a written statement.

Organizers expected thousands to participate in the walk at 7 a.m. Saturday at Livingston Park in Columbus.

Last year, more than 900,000 people participated in a Freedom Walk held in neighborhoods in 166 cities due to ongoing social unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said. 

The Freedom Walk was a "call to the entire country to walk in their neighborhood to bring awareness to these issues," officials said.

The virtual event was held in more than 30 states.

In 2019, more than 30,000 participated in the walk. 

This year, the organization hosted seven days of in-person events leading up to Saturday's walk called Black Men's Health Week.

The events included a job fair, service day and a concert that began Aug. 7 and run through Saturday.

“We wanted to create a week of events to more provide diverse opportunities for the African American community to capitalize on their health and wellness," said executive director Marlon Platt in a press release. "By placing our annual event on a larger platform, this will display the portfolio of what our agency can do for African American communities.”

The National African American Male Wellness Walk/Run (AAMWW) was established in 2004 as a one-day event to bring awareness to African American men dying from preventable diseases 10 times the rate of other men, officials said in a press release.

However, today it's an annual event in over 12 cities throughout the country, officials said.

Gregory said it's important community members participate in the walk.

"People should get involved because it's a cause we need â€” good healthy men. If we get good healthy men, we get good healthy communities," Gregory said.

For more information about the National African American Males Wellness Walk/Run, visit aawellness.org.