You're Helping Somebody. Keep Going, Tarana Burke
Tarana Burke has just one piece of advice to other activists: just keep going.
TARANA BURKE: The Maya Angelous and the Toni Morrisons and the Oprah Winfreys are really about God at the end of the day. They are a conduit for this wisdom and this information and this connection to what love looks like in real time. Whether you believe in God or not, it's about the divine, or it's about the universe or whatever. For me, it's about God. And it's about the vehicles that God uses, which is any vehicle that God wants to use to bring love into our lives.
TARANA BURKE: I was raised steeped in a lot of black culture. I took African dance. I went to a Muslim daycare and learned Swahili. I was exposed to, you know, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison, and Tony Cade Bambara, and, you know, Maya Angelou at very, very young ages. In fact, I was so anxious to read those books because my mother would not let me. And I would always act like, can I-- can I read this book yet? I just had tons of this particularly black feminist literary culture that was very important in my life.
TARANA BURKE: I joined an organization called the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement when I was 14, and it changed my life. The premise behind 21st Century was that young people have power now and that you can be an organizer in your community now.
I think people really don't understand how invisible it feels to be a black and brown youth in America. Even if we don't have the broader concept and know the reasons why, you have eyes, and you can see the cops coming into your community and sweeping up everybody in the neighborhood. So we know what injustice looks like, but this gave us a tool to speak out against injustice. And that wasn't something that I don't think any of us knew was available to us. So it just changed things.
TARANA BURKE: I met another young woman who's still in my life who's very much a big part of my life. And I've-- I've had her since 13. And I call her my little moth. They all have-- they all have nicknames.
And when this all started blowing up and everything, she saw me talking about heaven on something, and she said-- and I-- and I was characterizing it as my biggest failure, right? And she was like, stop saying that. You know, stop calling yourself a failure. It wasn't a failure. When I met you two years later, you were the second person I ever told what happened to me, but you were the first person to believe me.
When she says to me that the idea that somebody who you look up, that somebody who you respect believes you, that's a very small thing to ask. And just the simple act of believing her-- this is from her own words-- changed everything.
And so before MeToo was a thing, I practiced deeply listening to little black girls when they told me the truth about their lives. And in the spaces where they could not find the strength to do that, my story became the impetus for it. I can create safety for you in the knowledge that I know what you're holding. This is the safest place you could be in because I will never let you have to experience anything close to what you've experienced already because I love you, and our children need that.
TARANA BURKE: There's a way that people frame what's happening as if MeToo is suddenly successful. That's not true. The work that we've done in MeToo has been successful for 10 years, for 12 years, actually. But it's about how you define success. And there's a way that people bring this to me that always diminishes the history of it when they think they're actually trying to give accolades.
My work is successful. I have hundreds of children, hundreds of adults, of people's lives who have been touched by the work that we've put forward in MeToo, and that's what success means to me. So I never had, like, a, oh, boy. Now, we made it kind of moment. Because this could have never happened, and I would still be out here speaking at conferences, and workshops, and whenever people would let me do it, and I would be fine, and we would be successful.
TARANA BURKE: I refuse to let the MeToo movement or Tarana Burke take up all the air in the room, and I refuse to let people try to all of a sudden do what they do as, you have during your-- this is your 15 minutes of fame. Give us all the answers now. Look, Tarana Burke is a sexual violence person. She's going to tell us all about it.
I don't have all the answers. I'm one person that had one idea. And I think it's a great idea, and I think it will help millions of people. But I guarantee you that I can go out in the street and I can find you another Tarana Burke with another brilliant idea, and she doesn't have money, and she doesn't have resources, and she won't ever be in "Time Magazine" because we will ignore her.
And so part of my work in this moment is to make sure the people out there who are trying desperately to save their communities, trying desperately to bring a new reality into the lives of people whose lives have been shattered, that they don't get lost because all we can talk about is MeToo.
MeToo is a tiny part of a large movement that's been happening for decades. What good does it do for me to make sure that my work isn't erased to only erase other people? That's not-- what's the point of that? Then that means I'm out here alone, and this work can't be done alone.
TARANA BURKE: I hope that there is somebody out there right now that is-- that is like, I want to do what you're doing. I'm so inspired by this because I realize you're a regular person who just decided that I won't let my community suffer. And I-- and I have something to contribute. And I hope more than anything, more than they're like, oh, she did this, or she went to the Golden Globes or whatever, that they're like, oh, yo, she just made me realize that this idea I had is possible, and I should keep doing it.
The thing that I tell people all the time is, if you're going to get anything from me is to keep going. That idea is brilliant. It may not be brilliant to everybody, but it's brilliant to somebody. You're helping somebody. Keep going.
TARANA BURKE: The name of the program was Just Be Inc, the name of the organization. And it was called that because we believed deeply that black girls needed a space to just exist. One of the things that I think that's the most unfortunate and sad about the way people characterize black children is that our children aren't ever given the space to mess up, to do the things that children do, which is make mistakes, learn from their mistakes, and grow. Our mistakes cost us our lives. They cost us our reputations, you know?
And so we wanted to create a space where these girls could understand that they were worthy, and they were worthy just because they existed. And this is a space where they could just be.
TARANA BURKE: If there's anything that we're taking down as a movement, it's no individual person, but it's this dismantling of the power structures that allow sexual violence to be as insidious as it is. And that happens, the way you dismantle those power structures is by truth. That old idea of speaking truth to power comes from the idea that the more truth that you tell, the less power people have to lord over you because your-- our truth is powerful in and of itself.
If this level of visibility and-- and, like, acknowledgment does anything, it gives me the opportunity to bring those ideas into rooms, and places, and to people who are in a position to do something about it, and to become a person who's in a position to do something about it.