2018 NCCWSL Keynote Speaker Tarana Burke
Tarana Burke skyrocketed into the national spotlight after a simple hashtag — #MeToo — began circulating the internet on a Sunday in October 2017. While the initial tweeter of the hashtag was unfamiliar with the phrase’s origins, those familiar with Burke and her work were quick to credit the activist with creating this message of solidarity a decade earlier. Seemingly simple in hashtag form, the Me Too movement’s history and the solutions it demands are far more nuanced.
While #MeToo has taken on a second life as a catchall for sexual harassment and assault among all women regardless of race, profession, or socioeconomic status, the movement was initially intended to provide a supportive outlet for young black women afraid to speak out about their experiences with sexual abuse. Burke frequently recalls the moment she realized the need for this movement. While Burke was working at a youth camp in Alabama for Just Be Inc.— a nonprofit she founded in 2003 focused on the health, wholeness, and wellbeing of young women of color — a 13-year-old girl began to open up to Burke about the sexual abuse she had survived. Shocked and momentarily silenced by the girl’s heartbreaking story, Burke sent her to another counselor. Upon reflection, Burke, who is a survivor of sexual assault herself, wondered why instead of referring the girl to someone else, she couldn’t say, “me too.”
Since then Burke has dedicated more than a decade to this movement, inspiring empathy and solidarity among survivors, amplifying the voices of thousands of survivors, and returning focus to victims rather than perpetrators. In an interview with the Washington Post, Burke said that she did not anticipate the vast need for this movement. “This is not just about our small community. … This is necessary. People are crying for it.”
Burke has received well-deserved accolades for her leadership behind the Me Too movement. Notably, she was named one of TIME magazine’s “Silence Breakers,” who were collectively named the magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year. Outside of Me Too, Burke continues her activist work as the senior director of programs at Girls for Gender Equity, a Brooklyn-based organization working to improve gender and race relations and socioeconomic conditions for vulnerable youth and communities of color.
After decades of work in social justice and activism for survivors of sexual abuse, Burke has announced plans for a memoir titled Where the Light Enters. The book, set to publish in 2019, will discuss the importance of the Me Too movement, as well as Burke’s journey from “victim to survivor to thriver.”