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Tarana Burke Speaker & Booking Information

Founder of The Me Too Movement
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Tarana Burke Biography

The founder of the Me Too Movement, Tarana Burke, is a proud native of the Bronx, the New York City borough where she was born on September 12, 1973. She currently serves as a senior director with the Brooklyn, New York based non-profit Girls for Gender Equity, and she is the mother of Kaia Burke. Burke's activism dates back to her adolescence, and her involvement with the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, a Selma, Alabama based organization dedicated to helping young people become community organizers and leaders. It was through the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement that Burke participated in her first organizing effort in support of five African American and Latino teenage boys who had been accused committing a brutal sexual assault of a jogger in New York City's Central Park. Those five boys, subsequently known as the "Central Park Five" and who eventually would be exonerated, were the subject of a campaign led by the future President of the United States, Donald Trump, to reinstate the death penalty in New York state. Burke's effort against Trump and in support of the "Central Park Five" were her first lessons in practical organizing.

Following high school, Burke attended Alabama State University, and graduated from Auburn University, in Auburn, Alabama. Burke remained in Alabama, moving to Selma to work for the 21 Century Youth Leadership Movement. During her time in Alabama, Burke co-founded the Jendayi Aza rites of passage program for girls (2003), founded the non-profit Just Be, Inc. (2006), served as a special projects consultant with the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute, served as executive director of the Black Belt Arts and Cultural Center, and worked as a consultant on the 2014 film "Selma." In Alabama Burke encountered a girl, to whom she gave the pseudonym "Heaven," whose story forced Burke to confront her own circumstance as a survivor of sexual violence, even though Burke couldn't yet bring herself to say "me too" out loud.

Unprepared to confront her own trauma, Burke's desire to help other survivors kicked in. Determined that "'me too' could bring messages and words and encouragement to survivors of sexual violence…," it became clear that "me too" was not only "about survivors talking to survivors, but about using the power of empathy to stomp out shame."

Recognizing the dearth of resources dedicated to helping young Black and brown girls, Burke used Just Be, Inc. to help fill in some of the gaps, because she wanted "to speak healing into their lives, to let them know that healing was possible, and let them know that they weren't alone." Meanwhile, Burke moved toward healing herself, which would make her a more effective healer. She sought out the things that gave her joy, noting that "[w]hen I learned to lean into my joy, my life changed."

Burke had been working to spread the "Me Too" Movement for more than a decade when in 2017 her message was amplified in ways that no one could have predicted. That year dozens of famous and powerful men were accused of sexual violence and sexual harassment. TheTwitter hashtag #MeToo gave face the number of survivors of sexual violence, as well as to let other survivors know they weren't alone, which is what Burke had intended from the beginning. The call to solidarity around #MeToo was a resounding success as millions of people coming out as survivors. Burke acknowledged the power of this catalytic moment, noting "what started as a simple exchange of empathy between survivors has now become a rallying cry, a movement builder, and a clarion call…." She also stated that "[w]ith two words, folks who have been wearing the fear and shame that sexual violence leaves you, like a scarlet letter, are able to come out into the sunlight and see that we are a global community."

Burke has received a number of deserved awards and accolades for her work. Among them are the 2018 Prize for Courage from the Ridenhour Prizes and the Voices of the Year Catalyst Award from She Knows Media. Burke also received the Black Girls Rock Community Change Agent Award, and the North Star Award from the National Cares Mentoring Movement, both in 2018. And Burke was among the "silence breakers" who were, together, named Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

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