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Tarana Burke is an American activist who started the Me Too movement. She is the founder of Just Be Inc., an all girls program for black girls aged 12 -18. Burke is also the senior director of Girls For Gender Equity, a Brooklyn based non-profit organization that creates opportunities for young women.
Tarana Burke was born on the 12th of September, 1973 in The Bronx, New York, where she grew up in a low-income family. As a child and a teenager, Burke was sexually assaulted but was able to recover from her trauma with the help of her mother. She attended Alabama state university but transferred to and completed her college education in Auburn university. Right from her teenage years and inspired by her own experiences, Burke worked in marginalized communities to improve the lives of young girls in these communities. When she was in college, she began to organize protests and press conferences to address injustice.
Tarana Burke began her activism when she was just a teenager. After graduating from college in the late 1990s, she moved to Selma, Alabama where she met a girl named Heaven who narrated to Burke her experience of sexual abuse by her mother’s boyfriend. Burke was short of words and after that encounter, never saw the girl again. She would later narrate this encounter, saying that she wished she had said the words me too to the girl. This incident inspired Burke to found Just Be Inc in order to offer support to young female minorities and the Me Too movement to raise awareness about sexual violence in society.
The Me Too Movement
Tarana Burke first used the phrase me too on My Space in 2006. However, it was not until 2017, when it was used as an hashtag by American actress Alyssa Milano, that it became popular. In light of the allegations of sexual abuse against Harvey Weinstein, Alyssa on October 15, 2017 tweeted “If all women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” The tweet gathered a large number of responses from women all over the world including celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Gwyneth Paltrow.
The me too movement has made a very big impact especially in the media, fashion industry, churches, academia and even government as more women have continued to come out with their stories of sexual abuse. Facebook reported that 45% of its users in America knew someone who had posted with the phrase. Apart from starting conversations on sexual violence, the movement has also caused positive changes regarding other issues like gender pay gap and workplace sexual harassment as more companies are being held accountable. Since the tweet went viral, Tarana Burke and Alyssa Milano have met and discussed the movement on public forums.
After over 80 women made allegations against Harvey Weinstein, he was charged with rape in May 2018 and found guilty of 2 out of 5 felonies in February 2020. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison. Tarana Burke told the BBC that even though Harvey Weinstein’s imprisonment was a big win, it did not mark the end of the me too movement. She said “Seeing which celebrity goes to jail is not sustainable as a movement. What we need to be talking about is the everyday woman, man, trans person,child and disabled person. All the people who are not rich, white and famous who deal with sexual violence on an everyday basis”
On February 14, 2020, Tarana Burke announced her engagement to a man (unnamed) via her instagram page. On April 19, 2020, she opened up in a twitter thread about her husband’s battle with COVID-19, saying that the two of them were exposed to the corona virus in mid march. While Burke didn’t experience any serious symptoms, she explained that her husband experienced symptoms like extreme fatigue and an escalating fever. He has since recovered.
In 2017, Burke was the Time Person of the year. In 2018, she was listed in Time’s 100 most influential people of 2018 and received the Ridenhour prize for courage. She also attended the 75th Golden Globe Awards as a guest of Michelle Williams. In 2019, she won a Trailblazer award.