1,000 hear Tarana Burke’s message at Calvary Episcopal Church
The #MeToo movement didn’t start with Harvey Weinstein. Nor Matt Lauer. Nor Kevin Spacey.
Sure, these high-priced, high-status names grabbed all the headlines when sexual harassment and sexual misconduct allegations were made against them a few months ago, but for women like Tarana Burke, fighting sexual misconduct has been a decades-long battle.
No one knew Burke’s name 25 years ago, when she said she became a victim of sexual abuse.
No one knew the New York City resident who created Just Be Inc., in 2007, a nonprofit organization to help victims of sexual harassment and assault. The organization’s movement was then labeled, “Me Too.”
Burke, to the rest of the world, was just another Black woman, starting another movement.
Who knew that 10 years later, everyone would know her name, seemingly everyone would support her movement, and she’d be speaking to women all across the country?
“We are a movement of a global community of survivors committed to healing as individuals and as a community, and committed to doing the work to interrupting sexual violence with evidence,” Burke said to a crowd of 1,000 at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside, Feb. 6.
The event was sponsored by PublicSource.
While Burke had been working in her community for years, it was actress Alyssa Milano who, just a few days after allegations surfaced against Hollywood film producer Weinsten, sent this tweet: “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Milano wrote that tweet after a friend suggested to her that “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 hours, thousands of women were tweeting #MeToo.
Milano, at the time unaware of Burke’s “Me Too” movement, quickly gave credit to Burke in subsequent television interviews.
But for Burke, how did she come to beginning such an important cause? She told the Pittsburgh women in the crowd the story of little Heaven, a 13-year-old girl who she met while at a summer camp in Alabama. Heaven, in a form of bravery, spoke up about her experience of being sexually abused. But Burke, who was the summer camp director, found her tongue was tied.
“When she walked away from me, I’m like, ‘my god, I couldn’t even say ‘Me Too’ to her,’” Burke told the crowd, Feb. 6. “I couldn’t even offer up to her that little bit of solace that you are not alone. All of these things that you just said, I know what you’re talking about, it’s very much like my experience, I couldn’t even give that to her, and nobody actually gave it to me when I was young.”
That encounter with Heaven was in 1997. It’s obvious now that she’ll never be tongue tied again when it comes to speaking out against these issues.
“People really don’t like having expanded conversation about this,” Burke said. “They want something that’s nice and easy and compact…#MeToo is an indication of the work we have to do…and we do have a lot of work to do.”
Kiandra Foster, program manager for the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s “Says NO MORE” initiative, told the Courier the organization is dedicated to preventing sexual assault and domestic violence. What struck a chord with Foster the most about Burke’s speech was that Burke “wants to not live in conflict, but in service…the importance of communities within Pittsburgh and other cities nationally, being able to come together and continue talking about these issues, but moving that further and taking these conversations into action,” Foster said. “But the only way to do that is for us to stop with the conflict and start thinking about what we can do to assist one another.”
Tracy Baton, director of Women’s March on Washington Pittsburgh, came to the event to hear Burke’s message, unfiltered. And she told the Courier she heard from Burke the true reason for the movement. “It was her emphasis on joy,” Baton said of Burke. “It’s so easy to emphasize that people need rights and fight about those rights, but not really have a real goal, and for her, the goal is joy. When you walk through this with someone, when you try to walk through change, what it means to heal ourselves, our community and our world is to move to a place where people can have real joy.”
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