On October 15, 2017 the hashtag #MeToo went viral after Alyssa Milano tweeted MeToo in reference to being sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. Ever since then Tarana Burke’s life has never been the same.
Burke visited #Kent State Monday night to talk to students about her experience as an activist in a program put together by groups on campus, including the Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services, the Women’s Center and Black United Students.
The creator of the MeToo movement, she has been an activist since she was 14 when she was involved with an organization called The 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement. Her work with 21st Century got her involved in the case called “The Central Park 5” To bring light to the unfair way the media was painting the men.
Most of Burke’s work has been built around helping young black and brown girls. She saw how many of these young girls weren’t getting the help they needed and their issues were being brushed off so she decided to become an advocate for these girls while pushing away her own struggles of having been a survivor of sexual violence.
“I don’t think I was comfortable dealing with that yet,” Burke said. “I don’t think I used the words- no I know I didn’t use the word survivor. I was still dealing with what sexual violence had happened in my own life.”
Burke spoke about how she feels regarding the movement, which was originally started by focusing on young black girls in Alabama, was then picked up by white actresses and turned into this huge movement in Hollywood and all around the world. It was soon resonating deep within young girls, older girls, men, celebrities, women and the #LGBTQ community.
As a community, LGBTQ people face statistically higher rates of sexual violence. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 44 percent of lesbians, 61 percent of bisexual women, 26 percent of gay men and 37 percent of bisexual men “experience rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner.”
The 2015 U.S. Transgender survey found that 47 percent of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their life.
“People often ask me ‘how did you feel? How did you feel when those white ladies from Hollywood started using MeToo?’,” Burke said “Listen, don’t ask me that question. This is the truth; We all know that black women’s work is easily erased. It happens on a very regular basis but that’s not what happened here. And we should be clear about that. Those ladies didn’t try and steal something from me.”
At the end of her speech and audience questions Burke was given a standing ovation. Afterwards you could go on stage to get your picture taken alongside her. People stormed the stage in hopes of getting to speak and take pictures with her.
Cecelia Dean, a sophomore political science major loved Burke’s speech and how she spoke with so much passion and dived deep into the issues many people only scratch the surface of.
“I really, really loved her speech.” Dean said. “I thought she was the personification of inspiration. I thought she was absolutely fabulous and really hit on some points that most people don’t. She was open, she was really real about it too. She wasn’t glossing over any of it. She was right down deep and dirty and I loved it.”
This #event was open to the community and some young sophomore and junior girls from Shaker Heights came out to hear Burke speak.
Monet Bouie a sophomore at Shaker Heights high school said her biggest takeaway is the reminder that even though she may be a high schooler she still has a voice in her community and school.
“Especially as a high school student, not really having the resources and being economically independent to feel like you can make a change,” Bouie said. “(Burke) being here and her telling us ‘like hey, this is what you can do’ and if you feel like your school isn’t listening to your voice, this is your plan. It made me feel more confident and gave a better knowledge on how I can create change in my high school.”
Aaliyah Williams, a junior at Shaker Heights said the biggest thing she took from the speech was realizing that she wasn’t being bold like Tarana said to be.
“When she asked ‘are you being bold?’” Williams said. “”Hearing that made me realize that I’m not being bold in who I am, I’m not being bold in my leadership and I’m not being bold in what I want. Hearing that she made a difference when she was just 14 and now I’m 16 makes me feel like I can do anything if I really set my mind to it and make an effort.”
Katrina Cassell, a junior at Shaker Heights, said her biggest takeaway is remembering to keep the MeToo movement intersectional.
“Understanding the fight for racial justice and the fight against #sexual assault are not mutually exclusive,” Cassell said. “I think also another thing because this gets highlighted a lot at college campuses, but this is a really important issue at our high school and confronting the culture with administration and also with parties at our high school. It was interesting and confronting to hear her say ‘what are you doing?’ because I know it happens at our high school.”
Written by Olivia Herold.