“Me too”. You’ve probably seen those words pop up on your social media feed at some point during the last year. The “me too” hashtag first emerged on social media as a response to the Hollywood scandal involving former producer Harvey Weinstein. The scandal first broke in The New York Times after a large number of women accused Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment. Activist and actress Alyssa Milano shared the words on Twitter, urging women who had ever been sexually harassed or assaulted to update their social media statuses with the words “me too”, so that the world could clearly see the magnitude of the problem.
Social media was immediately flooded with women of all races and ages updating their status with “Me too”, opening our eyes to just how deeply the issue invades all levels of society. It’s safe to say that “Me too” and the stories it brought forth from ordinary women all over the globe was one of the most captivating and eye-opening moments of 2017. But the story of “Me too” actually began 20 years earlier, before social media and the idea of hashtags even existed. It began in 1997, with an extraordinary woman who overcame obstacle after obstacle to recognise her dream of helping others. Her name is Tarana Burke, and here is everything you need to know about her.
What Me Too is.
Tarana Burke is a civil rights activist, and in 2006 founded Just Be Inc., a youth organisation geared towards empowering and supporting young women of colour. Part of their work involves programs to guide teen and pre-teen girls through a range of issues, and to equip them with the skills they need to navigate the world. “Me too” is an initiative of Just Be Inc., and over the years has grown into a movement aimed at supporting survivors of sexual assault or harassment in their recovery. Her goal for the “Me too” campaign is to take the focus of stories of sexual assault and harassment away from the perpetrator, and place the focus back on the victims.
Why she started Me Too.
Before becoming a civil rights activist, and director of Just Be Inc., Tarana Burke was a youth worker dealing mostly with children of colour. After a bonding session at a youth camp in 1997, Tarana was approached by a young girl with a dark secret to confess: she was being molested by her stepfather. She began to describe the abuse to Tarana who, overcome with emotion, cut her off mid-sentence and sent her in the direction of another female counsellor. The memory of the girl walking away, and being unable to find the strength to comfort her, or to even whisper “me too”, left a mark on Tarana. Ten years later, she founded Just Be Inc. and the “Me too” movement, rallying the necessary resources to become a source of comfort and support to survivors of sexual assault and harassment.
Why Me Too matters.
While “Me too” may have found its fame in Hollywood, the movement was never meant for the stars. Young women of colour are disproportionately susceptible to sexual violence in the U.S., not simply because of their race but a number of different factors: access to support services, language and cultural barriers, stereotypes regarding women of colour, economic vulnerability, etc. According to research, at least 40% of African-American women report experiencing coercive sexual contact by the age of eighteen. Research also shows that for every one African-American woman who reports her rape, there are at least fifteen African-American women who do not report theirs. While the numbers can never reflect the true magnitude of the problem, it is easy to see that there is potentially a large number of women who will benefit from the existence of movements like “Me too”.
Why the world should pay attention to Tarana Burke in 2018.
Ms. Burke never expected “Me too” to be a viral sensation, nor did she ever expect to be on the cover of Time magazine – but she was. While initially, she had felt a sense of dread that her work was about to turn into something she could no longer control, she is now embracing the attention that she and “Me too” are receiving. Tarana is determined to use her new-found privilege in service of others, and to use her voice to keep campaigning for the people who need it most. After ten years, Tarana Burke is only just beginning, and I can’t wait to see where she leads us next in 2018.
To learn more about the “Me too” movement, click here.
To learn more about Just Be Inc., click here.
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