#MeToo campaign founder credits Alabama as movement’s birthplace
Tarana Burke, founder of the worldwide #MeToo campaign intended to raise awareness about sexual harassment, abuse and assault, credits Alabama for inspiring the movement.
In an article published Thursday in the Birmingham Times, the details of Burke’s deep connections to the Yellowhammer State were tied together. Not only did she attend Alabama State University before graduating from Auburn, but, before that, Burke worked with grassroots civil rights causes in the state starting at age 14.
She also, while a teenager, was a counselor at an Alabama youth camp when a 13-year-old began to tell Burke about sexual abuse she was experiencing at home.
“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 five minutes,” Burke shared.
“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,” she continued.
That very moment, the #MeToo movement’s seeds were planted in Alabama. Burke, who herself is a survivor of rape and sexual abuse from her childhood and teenage years, was left searching for the right words to empathize with the girl.
“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,” Burke added.
Since then, countless women and young girls have disclosed their experiences to her. Burke has found a message share with survivors everywhere – “You’re not alone. This happened to me too.”
Burke, who was named a 2017 TIME Magazine Person of the Year and got the opportunity to release the ball drop in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, was also involved in community organizing and social justice causes in her early teens. One such organization she worked with sprouted from a youth leadership group that state Sen. Hank Sanders (D-Selma) began with veterans of Alabama’s civil rights and labor movements.
“They wanted to make sure there was another generation of young people to carry on the legacy of work they began in that movement,” Burke told the Montgomery Advertiser.
— Hank Sanders (@SenHankSanders) September 13, 2018
Now with a movement of her own, Burke hopes to correct the prevalent narrative about #MeToo. For her, “it’s about the victims and their healing, not ‘naming and shaming’ abusers.”
“The thousands of messages I get weekly come from people who are not trying to take down anybody, but they’re trying to find out how to craft a healing journey or path,” she said.
You can hear Burke speak about “The Power of Me Too” and her journey founding the movement in Birmingham on October 9 from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the UAB Alys Stephens Center.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn