Tarana Burke is an activist living in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently serving as Senior Director at Girls For Gender Equity. In 2006, long before it would become a hashtag, she started using the phrase “me too” and is now regarded as the founder of the Me Too Movement, dedicated to encouraging women and girls to come forward about their experiences with harassment and abuse.
Burke was born in the Bronx, New York in 1973, growing up in a housing project. As a child and teenager she was a victim of rape and assault. She survived and recovered from these experiences, in large part thanks to the support of her mother. She used these experiences as fuel for her fire, committing herself as a teenager to helping young girls in marginalized communities.
Burke went on to attend Alabama State University and then Auburn University, where she organized events protesting racial and economic injustice. Upon her graduation she moved to Selma, Alabama and continued her career in activism. In 2003 she founded a non-profit called Just Be Inc. dedicated to young women of color.
It was while working at Just Be Inc. that Burke started sharing the following message with survivors of abuse: “You’re not alone. This happened to me too.” Shortened to just me too, she began utilizing the phrase to help cultivate support and courage among abuse victims. She first started using the phrase on social media through Myspace in 2006.
The impact was enormous. Burke recalls one meeting with 30 girls in Tuskegee, Alabama, in which she used the term and encouraged the participants to use it as well if they themselves had been survivors. Anticipating only a few to join in, 20 of the 30 in the room made their voices heard.
The phrase took on new life in October 2017, in the aftermath of the allegations leveled against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Actress Alyssa Milano got the ball rolling on Twitter, encouraging other survivors of assault to speak out by using the phrase. It would soon become #metoo, turning into a global phenomenon. Milano was quick to acknowledge Tarana Burke as the originator of the term, giving her the credit she deserved for founding the now worldwide movement. This high-profile acknowledgement catapulted Burke’s work and activism to new heights. At the end of 2017, Time Magazine included her on a list it called “The Silence Breakers,” who were collectively given the annual honor of Time’s Person of the Year.
Burke lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and travels across the country to speak at universities and other organizations. In a hotly-debated arena with a great deal of international attention, we may be more accustomed to hear the stories of high-profile names and big headline scandals. Those stories are important, of course. But only a woman like Tarana Burke, from humble beginnings who has devoted her life to working on the ground to make real change, can be a true face and leader of the movement.
Together with her colleagues, Tarana Burke has changed the world. In a series about women’s history, it is perhaps fitting to conclude with the story of a woman who is pointing the way towards the future. Our hope at Mb Staffing is that the future for women and all of us is shaped in large part by her work and legacy.