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Tarana Burke

#blackhistoryProfilesFebruary 23, 2022

Tarana Burke is a New York-based activist, community organizer, and founder of the Me Too movement, an international campaign against sexual violence and sexual harassment.

Burke was born in the Bronx and grew up in public housing. After Burke was sexually assaulted, her mother encouraged her to get involved in the community to help in her recovery. As a teenager in the late 1980s, she began working with an organization called the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, where she worked on initiatives around issues like police brutality, housing inequality, and economic justice.

She attended college at Alabama State University, where she continued her work with 21st Century. She met many Black women and girls who had experienced violence and exploitation. These girls had been traumatized, and struggled to carry on without access to resources, care, or support. 

“And so I think a lot of girls — a lot of little Black and Brown girls internalize it,” said Burke in an interview with NPR. “And then we see it come out in anger and behavior and things like that. But nobody tends to ask us those questions about where that came from. So it’s just a label, these little Black girls with these attitudes, these little angry Black girls.”

In 2005, Burke created Just Be, Inc., a youth organization to help young women of color move through adolescence and into adulthood with a strong sense of self worth and self esteem. 

Burke first said, “Me, too,” in 1997 after she interviewed a girl who was being sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. Burke felt powerless to help, and she would never see the girl again. Later, reflecting on the interview, she wished she had told the girl, “Me too.”

Twenty years later,“Me too” went viral as a hashtag during the sexual abuse investigation of movie producer Harvey Weinstein. It was tweeted tens of millions of times. In 2017, Tarana and other activists who helped ignite the anti-harassment — known collectively as the Silence Breakers — were named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

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