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The Origin Story of “#MeToo”

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#metoo, me too, tarana burke, black excellence, activists

If you’ve been anywhere on social media this past week, you have likely seen  #MeToo everywhere as women share their stories of sexual assault and harassment at the work place and beyond. Most believe the recent outing of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein s a career sexual predator triggered this movement, but that is not exactly accurate. Although the Weinstein story has propelled this movement to go viral, the campaign started over ten years ago with gender equality activist Tarana Burke.

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As the program director of the Brooklyn-based Girls for Gender Equality, Tarana has worked for years to empower young women of color. One fateful encounter that Tarana describes in her open letter on the JustBe website with a girl at a youth camp director was the base to the movement. The girl had been sexually assaulted by her mother’s boyfriend and confided her secret to Tarana.  Here is what she wrote about what followed:

“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.”

The overall idea behind the movement is to make victims feel empowered by letting them know they’re not alone. They are heard and seen. They can get help and support by speaking up about what happened to them.

To connect, seek out help through Tarana’s organization, and donate, click here.