Get to Know Tarana Burke, African-American Civil Rights Activist & Founder of “me too.” | The 2019 MAKERS Conference
Tarana Burke founded the “Me Too” campaign back in 2006, as a way to stand in solidarity with her fellow survivors of sexual assault, particularly black women and girls. When Alyssa Milano used the #MeToo hashtag following news of the Harvey Weinstein scandal in 2017, she quickly found out that it had all started with Burke, who has since been the face of the powerful movement.
TARANA BURKE: The words me too are so simple, but the underpinning of it is that I agree with you. I am with you. I understand you, and I'm connected to you. I was raised by my mother in the Bronx, with a very strong understanding of who I was as a black child in America. My mother had an extensive library, so I was exposed to Alice Walker and Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou at very, very young ages. We had a lot of traditional American ways, but I also grew up not being able to say the pledge of allegiance. My grandfather was adamant about that. You will not pledge allegiance to a country that has no allegiance to you. Donald Trump took out full page ads in all the major newspapers in New York calling for their death. He labeled them animals. We wanted to push back against the way these young black and Latino boys were being portrayed in the media, and so we organized a rally. It was the first thing I'd ever organized. That changed the trajectory of my life. She had brought up all the stuff that I was not dealing with, where you deal with the pain later and later and later. She had found whatever courage she needed to come forward and say this to me. And the nagging thing in my brain was, this happened to me too. I practice deeply listening to little black girls when they told me the truth about their lives. Another young woman said to me, you were the second person I ever told what happened to me, but you were the first person to believe me. Every time I think about it, it makes me emotional. The idea that somebody who you look up to believes you, that's a very small thing to ask. And just a simple act of believing her changed everything. I went on Twitter, and I was floored. I just saw that this hashtag was trending. So that really is what set the panic off. The possibility that black woman's work being erased, and of me being lost in this narrative is a reality. But for me the decision was, am I going to be in conflict in this moment, or am I going to be who I said I was which is somebody who was in service of survivors. And that wasn't hard. I had to figure out a way to insert myself into this conversation, not to take ownership of it, but because I have something to contribute to it. Maya Angelou was molested as a young person and figured out some kind of formula for survival. I remember trying to identify, how does a body that holds this kind of pain also hold joy? Because I know the pain doesn't go away. And so I've made a practice out of curating joy in my life, and I find joy in listening to survivors talk about how resilient they feel. I find joy in knowing that there's a new crop of young people who are committing themselves to interrupt sexual violence. That's why I've always done youth work, because I believe young people will save us.