Six Things We Can All Learn from Tarana Burke

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Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, has an undeniable stage presence. She possesses an aura of power and grace that is pretty unbeatable—it is the kind of thing you have to see to believe. VALLEY had the pleasure of covering her lecture to Penn State students on Thursday evening, and narrowed down the list of lessons to learn from Burke to these six things:

1. You’re not always going to say the right thing.

A lot of good can come from making a mistake or two. Burke learned this the hard way when she mentored for 21st Century. She didn’t handle her first encounter with a sexual assault victim well, but wanted to say “this happened to me too.” She wanted other people to know how to respond to these situations, which truly sparked her activism against sexual violence.

2. Get Uncomfortable.

It’s more comfortable for society to frame sexual harassment just in the workplace, but Burke emphasized there are people that are dying to be heard everywhere. She says, “Embrace your voice, but not at the risk of anyone else’s humanity.” Moreover, #MeToo is not just a movement for women, but for all survivors of every gender.

3. “Take what you have to make what you need.”

When Burke realized she would not have the number of organization backings that she thought she would for creating #MeToo, she was discouraged. She says, however, “I drew on what I needed and wanted at that age … I see you, I hear you, I believe you.”

4. You can do it on your own, but you don’t have to.

Burke constantly tells her audience that her friends, her “ride or dies,” were her biggest support system throughout her career in activism. “Empowerment, empathy … they can change lives,” Burke says. When her team started a MySpace page back in 2006, #MeToo gained its first viral moment and support system in the movement, as people began to ask, “how can we bring this to our community?”

5. Take ownership of your conversations and your story.

Burke says, “They can’t take ownership of what’s yours.” She reminded the audience that survivors don’t owe anyone their stories and they don’t owe everyone their #MeToo. However, more people being a part of the movement does not take away from others’ stories either.

6. Regaining your own.

When October hit and the #MeToo movement exploded, Burke’s integral part in the movement was initially being overcrowded and erased by all of the white noise around it. At first she was frustrated and felt like she had to save the movement she created, but after reading a survivor’s story on the internet, Burke realized the movement she dreamed of was happening right in front of her. She inserted herself into the social media world and back into her own movement to remind people what the meaning of #MeToo is after all: surviving and healing together.


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