Grit is Tarana Burke (Friday Feature)

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-Tarana Burke 

Last week the #MeToo movement hit social media with great force, encouraging many women to courageously post about their experiences of sexual violence. While many people saw and participated in this movement not everyone knows the history behind it. 

Here is what you may not know about how #MeToo got started: 

Tarana Burke is an inspiring and dedicated activist to say the least. She has spent the last 25 years working to help young women in marginalized communities and in 2003 she Co-founded "Jendayi Aza", an African-centered Rites of passage program for girls. That program eventually evolved into "Just Be Inc.", an organization that focuses on the health, wellbeing, and wholeness of young women of color. Through Burke's advocacy she heard a lot of heartbreaking stories and quickly realized that a large number of the girls she was working with were reporting experiences of sexual violence. The "Me Too" movement began more than 10 years ago within "Just Be Inc." as a way to address the issues of sexual violence that she kept seeing.  Burke understood that an essential tool in healing from sexual trauma is empathy and connection, and the best people to help were fellow survivors who could truly relate. Primary to the movement's development was Burke's desire to create survivor to survivor connections using those two simple words, "Me Too".

"Empowerment Through Empathy"  

This is the goal of the "Me Too" movement: to encourage survivors, especially underrepresented survivors, to connect with and support each other, creating a safe space to begin the processing and healing. 

The origin story of the "Me Too" movement happened in 1996 when Burke was a youth camp director. The story is extremely powerful and in order to do it justice I have quoted it in full. 


"The me too Movement™ started in the deepest, darkest place in my soul.

As a youth worker, dealing predominately with children of color, I had seen and heard my share of heartbreaking stories from broken homes to abusive or neglectful parents when I met Heaven. During an all girl bonding session at our youth camp, several of the girls in the room shared intimate stories about their lives. Some were the tales of normal teenage angst and others were quite painful.  Just as I had done so many times before, I sat and listened to the stories, and comforted the girls as needed. When it was over the adults advised the young women to reach out to us in the event that they needed to talk some more or needed something else – and then we went our separate ways.

The next day Heaven, who had been in the previous night’s session, asked to speak to me privately. Heaven was a sweet-faced little girl who kind of clung to me throughout the camp. However, her hyperactive and often anger-filled behavior betrayed both her name and light, high-pitched voice and I was frequently pulling her out of some type of situation. As she attempted to talk to me that day though the look in her eyes sent me in the other direction. She had a deep sadness and a yearning for confession that I read immediately and wanted no part of. Finally, later in the day she caught up with me and almost begged me to listen…and I reluctantly conceded.  For the next several minutes this child, Heaven, struggled to tell me about her “stepdaddy” or rather her mother’s boyfriend who was doing all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body…I was horrified by her words, the emotions welling inside of me ran the gamut, and I listened until I literally could not take it anymore…which turned out to be less than 5 minutes. Then, right in the middle of her sharing her pain with me, I cut her off and immediately directed her to another female counselor who could “help her better.”

I will never forget the look on her face.

I will never forget the look because I think about her all of the time. The shock of being rejected, the pain of opening a wound only to have it abruptly forced closed again - it was all on her face. And as much as I love children, as much as I cared about that child, I could not find the courage that she had found. I could not muster the energy to tell her that I understood, that I connected, that I could feel her pain. I couldn't help her release her shame, or impress upon her that nothing that happened to her was her fault. I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again as she tried to tell me what she had endured… I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper…me too."


While the speed at which this movement made its way through social media did a great service in bringing awareness to the severity of this issue there is still a lot of work left to be done. We must be prepared for what comes next. It is not enough to read the posts, we must be prepared to support survivors. We need to understand that it is not the obligation of survivors to tell their experiences and if reading these stories is activating in a negative way there should be no guilt in disconnecting. First and foremost I hope that everyone will take care of themselves; if you are inspired, find a way to help; if you are feeling overwhelmed, disengage for now. It is important to remember that the "Me Too" movement began long before the hashtag went viral and it will continue long after social media has moved on.

Resources

Just Be Inc.                                                                      http://justbeinc.wixsite.com/justbeinc/home

800-656-HOPE (RAINN - The National Sexual Assault Hotline)                     https://www.rainn.org/

310-855-4673 (Teen Line - Peer to Peer help: Call, Text, email, and message board)    https://teenlineonline.org/

1-877-739-3895 (National Sexual Violence Resource Center Hotline) 

1-877-995-5247 (Safe Helpline for Sexual Assault Support for the DoD Community) 

Not Alone: Together Against Sexual Assault ( https://www.justice.gov/ovw/protecting-students-sexual-assault)

1-888-373-7888 (National Human Trafficking Hotline)               https://humantraffickinghotline.org/

 

Deborah Pfluger