How Tarana J. Burke founded the #MeToo movement


Bobo K. and Anna Vanasse

Warning: this article contains themes of sexual assault

Tarana Burke was born on Sept. 12, 1973. She grew up in the Bronx, New York. When Burke was young, she developed a passion for activism. Her love for activism led her to be part of an organization called 21st Century. During her time there, she accomplished a significant amount, including launching initiatives around issues including racial discrimination, housing inequality, and economic justice. Later in life, she wished to further push her education for activism and community organization, so Burke attended Alabama State University, a historically Black college.

Burke continued to do what she did best throughout college. Burke, who had been living in Selma, Alabama at the time, started a nonprofit organization called Just Be Inc., that helped teach young female minorities a sense of self-worth. “Our theory was that you have to build a sense of self-worth before you can have healthy self-esteem,” Burke told Business Insider.

During the time, Burke and her team encountered many girls who were disclosing their experiences of sexual violence. Burke recalled when a 12-year-old girl told Burke that her boyfriend was 21 years old. “I thought, that’s not a relationship. That’s a crime,” she later said. Her team put up a Myspace page for Just Be Inc. and, within days, the organization became recognized, and had many responses from women who were thankful for the organization and its fight against sexual violence. As a survivor herself, Burke felt these girls’ stories personally.

In Burkes’ book Unbound: My story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement, she states that she was raped by a man, who was eighteen at the time when she was seven. Then, fifteen years later, she went to a Father’s Day party in her old neighborhood where she saw her rapist. The man did not recognize her, but she did. In an interview with PEOPLE, she elaborated on how seeing her rapist made her feel: “It took me a long time to feel angry. I felt ashamed. I was just so angry that he got to be in that moment.” She also said, “I felt like [he] got to walk around, barbecue and make friends and have fun and I was just like ‘how do you get to do these things, [when] I have thought about you almost every day for forty years?” She says that the man is now a police officer with two daughters.

Burke realized that sexual violence is a bigger problem in the world and that many people are victims of it. This realization led to the establishment of the ‘me too’ movement in 2006 to support survivors of sexual violence- specifically Black and brown girls. Burke believes that ‘me too.’ is more than just a moment in time; as the movement grew, Burke started to include more groups: I too now recognize anyone who is a victim of sexual violence. Burke has a vision and a commitment: to stop sexual violence.

In 2017, the hashtag #MeToo was used more than 19 million times following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. Alyssa Milano tweeted; “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Within 24 hours, her post went viral-inspiring women and men from around the world to share their personal stories.

With the help of social media, survivors all over the world were inspired to come out and share their experiences with sexual violence and expose the men who assaulted them. Burke recalled the time when she stumbled across the tweet. She knew that a lot of people were using her phrase and the backlash over the movement was startling. However, she said that the movement was going to be “a [expletive] disaster.” She felt that if her work was going to succeed, then it should be done in the dark.

So what is Burke doing right now? She is still working to stop sexual violence. She hopes that when the world starts evolving, people can have open discussions on sexual violence and how it affects millions of people around the world.