Tarana Burke, Founder of #MeToo, Speaks at UA

On Tuesday evening, founder of the worldwide #MeToo movement, Tarana Burke, spoke to a crowd of at least 200 at The University of Akron.

Battling a cold, Burke stood spoke in front of the crowd with eloquence and her signature wit. She began by sharing the story of her background in organizing and activism, which she says originated at a young age by watching her mother’s involvement in community efforts. Burke says her mother was inspired by “black feminism” before the label even existed, and surrounded the home with black feminist literature.

From then on, Burke found herself engaged with organized outreach work throughout her teen and college years. While working at a youth camp during this time, Burke found herself almost cosmically attached to a young attendee, Heaven, who would follow Burke around the camp endlessly. One day, following a group breakout session, Heaven confessed her experience with sexual violence to Burke, who admits she kept the girl at a distance due to her own unwillingness to address a personal past of assault. Once Heaven left Burke after that confession, Burke realized the emptiness she felt at being unable to help the young girl. “What I should have done was say, ‘This happened to me too.’ That’s all I needed to say. That’s all that needed to be said to me.”

The incident prompted Burke to reflect on the ways that through all her years of organizing, sexual violence was so often a subject left unattended. “Why was this?” she asked herself. In 2006, she helped co-found “Just Be Inc.,” a nonprofit “focused on the health, well being and wholeness of young women of color.” That same year, Burke went on to found the #MeToo movement as well, aimed at providing pathways toward healing for survivors of sexual violence.

The fact that #MeToo was launched 12 years ago and just recently became a global movement does not phase Burke in the least. She expressed that she holds no resentment toward Hollywood for boosting much of the coverage, explaining that it took an incredible amount of courage for the survivors of Harvey Weinstein’s abuse to come forward. What was particularly fascinating about Burke’s story was her revelation about the initial fear and concern she had when the movement first went viral. Burke says she was worried that the stories of these survivors would be swept away or forgotten somehow in a short period of time, or even that the resources necessary to getting survivors help would not surface. Eventually, though, she saw the inexplicable power that united each survivor sharing their own story and how the movement began affecting real change.

Burke concluded the event by sharing her hopes and intentions for the movement both in the future and, more importantly, the present. She says, “#MeToo is a survivor’s movement; it’s for all people, everywhere. Sexual violence does not discriminate.” In order to sustain the movement, we must be active in shifting the conversation away from the perpetrators and toward supportive survivors. “We must be engaged from a place of power,” Burke stated beautifully.

Thanks to the work of Burke, and countless others, the discourse and action surrounding sexual violence is doubtlessly growing into a more inclusive, meaningful change set on lifting up those voices previously unheard.