Tarana Burke, credited for being the first to use the “Me Too” phrase in 2006, will speak on March 27 in the Main Lounge of the Iowa Memorial Union, as part of the University of Iowa Lecture series. The event starts at 7:30 p.m., and admission is free, with seating on a first-come, first-seated basis.
Tarana Burke will share the heartbreaking story behind the genesis of the viral 2017 TIME Person Of The Year-winning “me too” movement. The #metoo campaign has emerged as a rallying cry for people everywhere who have survived sexual assault and sexual harassment. Tarana’s powerful, poignant story as creator of a global empowerment movement will move, uplift, and inspire you.
But even before #metoo became an international phenomenon, Tarana had dedicated decades of her life to social justice, laying the groundwork for a movement that was initially created to help young women of color who survived sexual abuse and assault. The movement now inspires solidarity, amplifies the voices of thousands of victims of sexual abuse, and puts the focus back on survivors.
“Too much of the recent press attention has been focused on perpetrators and does not adequately address the systematic nature of violence, including the importance of race, ethnicity, and economic status in sexual violence and other forms of violence against women,” wrote Burke in advance of the 2017 Golden Globes. “We believe that women of color, and women who have faced generations of exclusion . . . should be at the center of our solutions. This moment in time calls for us to use the power of our collective voices to find solutions that leave no woman behind.”
A sexual assault survivor herself, Tarana is working under the banner of the “me too” movement to assist other survivors and those who work to end sexual violence. She is senior director of programs at Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity. On stage, she provides inspiring words that lift up marginalized voices, enable survivors of all genders to know that they are not alone, and create a place for comfort and healing for those who have been traumatized.
Here is how she describes how the #MeToo movement started for her, as written on her JustBeInc site:
“As a youth worker, dealing predominately with children of color, I had seen and heard my share of heartbreaking stories. . . . During an all-girl bonding session at our youth camp, several of the girls in the room shared intimate stories about their lives. . . . Just as I had done so many times before, I sat and listened to the stories, and comforted the girls as needed. . . .
“The next day Heaven, who had been in the previous night’s session, asked to speak to me privately. . . . As she attempted to talk to me that day, though, the look in her eyes sent me in the other direction. She had a deep sadness and a yearning for confession that I read immediately and wanted no part of. Finally, later in the day she caught up with me and almost begged me to listen . . . and I reluctantly conceded. For the next several minutes, this child, Heaven, struggled to tell me about her ‘stepdaddy’ or rather her mother’s boyfriend who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body. . . I was horrified by her words, the emotions welling inside of me ran the gamut, and I listened until I literally could not take it anymore. Then, right in the middle of her sharing her pain with me, I cut her off and immediately directed her to another female counselor who could ‘help her better.’
“I will never forget the look on her face.
“I will never forget the look because I think about her all of the time. The shock of being rejected, the pain of opening a wound only to have it abruptly forced closed again—it was all on her face. And as much as I love children, as much as I cared about that child, I could not find the courage that she had found. . . . I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again as she tried to tell me what she had endured . . . I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper . . . me too.”
Tarana Burke will also be speaking on Monday, March 26, 8 p.m., at Stephens Auditorium, Iowa State University, in Ames.