Reaching Out: Burke Speaks at UCSB

By Joanne A Calitri   |   November 15, 2018
Me Too founder Tarana Burke speaks at UCSB

Tarana Burke, social justice activist and senior director of the Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equity, presented at the UCSB Arts & Lectures on November 5 about the “Me Too” (#metoo) movement. She spoke in a straightforward fashion for an hour, and outlined how and why the organization called “Me Too” started, where they are now and where they are going, “in order to give the context needed to rid everyone of the misinformation about it and me, especially on Wiki.”

The fact was clear throughout the evening; she began and remains committed to “Me Too” as an organization to help women of color who survived sexual abuse and assault, by providing a place of acknowledgment and a place to find resources for healing.

Tarana said, “I am not anyone’s healer, each person has to do that path on their own with whatever resources work for them. A survivor decides every day to survive. You do not have to go public to survive; take care of yourself first. This is about empathy. I just try to carry the message I wanted when I was a kid: It’s not your fault, it’s not your shame, it’s not your blame. Nothing’s wrong with you. There’s no special curse on you that made this happen. When we launched ‘Me Too’ on Facebook, there were twelve million members posting their ‘Me Too’ stories in the first 24 hours. My work is for those survivors and others – why aren’t there stories about them, about the marginalized people in this country? It pains me that the survivors have been forgotten. Naming names [e.g., Harvey Weinstein] is not a movement, it’s a reaction. I don’t want to be caught up in the celebrity of it or me; if you are going to celebrate me, then you have to start to talk about this movement differently and not be distracted by the noise in the media, and stand with me to help the survivors.”

She went on to explain, “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.

“What we need are conversations about what accountability looks like, and personal models of accountability, which can help us, but we are socialized to think in terms of crime and punishment first. We aren’t ready to face or talk about it, and it will continue until we can get educated. People and the press want to put everything under the ‘Me Too’ – NO! It’s about guiding people to healing resources, to interrupt sexual violence through community healing, laws, policies, and cultures.”

Burke told the story of being raised in the Bronx, New York, with a family that provided strong black culture, history, and feminist literature values. She attended leadership camps at 21st Century Youth Leadership in Selma, Alabama, received her college degree from Auburn, and returned to 21st Century as a camp counselor. 

It was there she met her first challenge, a young girl who insisted on telling her about being sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. Burke said, “I knew it was coming, and I tried to avoid it, I didn’t know what to say to her, I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I could see myself in her and all I could think of was, ‘Yeah, it happened to me too,’ but instead I sent her to see another counselor. I struggled with it for a long time.”

In 2006, Burke created Just Be Inc., a nonprofit helping victims of sexual harassment and assault, funding a large part of it with her own money. It was there another realization came when she tried to get assistance from the local Rape Crisis Center who turned her and her program away. “After the center refused to help, I went to my car and ‘Me Too’ was born.”

As for where things are now and headed, she defines “Me Too” as a global community of survivors committed to healing and action. She said, “A big part of the ‘Me Too’ movement is that it’s driven by survivors supporting one another. 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. This movement should be focused on places where we can cultivate joy and love as a means to progress the healing process.”

A new website with more than 1,000 resources is being fully launched April 2019, with a nod to the millennial generation by using “mvmt for movement in the url:

Following a question and answer period, Tarana concluded with, “UCSB has a good mission statement; it says, The University of California, Santa Barbara, is committed to global leadership for sustainability through education, research, and action. The concept of ‘sustainability’ can be used in many ways, but UCSB Sustainability defines it as: meeting the needs of the present generation, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. I challenge UCSB to do this mission in relation to sexual violence on campus and be accountable to the students.

“Awareness of it is not without a moral imperative. Let’s heal together, if you want to, then all I can say to you is, me too.”

Time magazine named Tarana Burke their 2017 Person of the Year and she received the 2018 Ridenhour Prize for Courage. 



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