For the past decade, Tarana Burke has spent her time seeking ways to ease the pain of sexual assault survivors. During this time, she’s discovered the power of language, specifically two simple words: me too.
“‘Me too’ creates this community that we [survivors] so desperately need because this road to healing and recovery is so tough,” Burke told a sold-out crowd of over a 1,000 attendees Tuesday night at the Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside at an event hosted by PublicSource
The #MeToo movement promotes unity among sexual assault survivors by creating what Burke calls “empowerment through empathy” and an environment to sustain conversation about sexual harassment. While the movement gained momentum when actress Alyssa Milano tweeted about it last October in response to sexual misconduct allegations against media mogul Harvey Weinstein, Burke has been using the phrase since 2006.
Drawn to organizing as a young adult, Burke initially set out to show young girls they had value and self worth. She eventually ended up at Just Be Inc., a nonprofit focused on supporting the health and wellbeing of young female minorities. Years later, Burke is now a senior director of programs at Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity.
The movement is not about taking down powerful men or just talking about sexual harassment in the workplace, Burke says, but broadening the conversation. One way to do this is through community healing, which as Burke put it, is defined in two parts: finding what you need to heal and finding what groups need to heal their trauma through policies and organizing.
“This is a community,” Burke said. “You deserve to be protected. Policies protect people, and that is how you heal a community.”
When asked how to best organize as a community, Burke suggested employing collective grassroot solutions by promoting queer and minority voices.
“The solution is to listen to people who have experience,” Burke said.
Back in October, when the #MeToo movement first blew up, garnering millions of social media posts in days, Burke was unsure how to react. On one hand, she feared her life’s work had been erased, but on the other, she saw an opportunity.
“If I wanted to build a legacy in a real way...this was a moment,” she said. “Do I want to be in conflict [fighting for myself] or do I want to be of service?”