Tarana Burke: Continuing the #metoo Conversation

Tarana Burke was the honored guest at Stony Brook University on Sunday, January 28, 2018, where she met with politicians, students, and held a open forum to answer questions from the public.

NY State Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino and Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn were at the event to discuss efforts in legislation for women, children, and victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“It’s so important to ensure that this hashtag turned viral moment turned movement, turns into lasting social and cultural change that will actually reduce victimization,” said Hahn, who revealed on stage that she was also a survivor of sexual assault.

The goal of the event was “to turn awareness into action.” Coordinator Cindy Morris of The Benson Agency and CEO of i-tri, a local organization which promotes women’s and girl’s empowerment through triathlons, worked tirelessly for weeks organizing the event, the sponsors, partners, speakers, and raising money. It came together beautifully.

Tarana Burke spoke about community healing and her work over the last 20+ years in working with survivors and finding and being a resource for healing and on-going coping and survival.

Ms. Burke shared her journey, her work, and what she is doing to help people. She spoke about her feelings on the sudden explosion of the hashtag #metoo in October 2017, saying, “Honestly, I was terrified.” and explained how she spent the next month making decisions about being involved and becoming part of this huge groundswell after spending so long working on a grassroots campaign.

While friends were trying to get her to step up and take credit for the movement, Burke was focused on making sure the movement had direction and that people understood what it was all about, and not just about the original discussions of sexual harassment in the workplace, which the first Me Too posts on Twitter were talking about. On October 15, 2017, Burke posted a video on Twitter explaining what Me Too is and what the movement’s goals are and have been for the last 12 years.

“I had to decide, am I going to be in conflict or in service? There was no direction, it was just getting bigger and I had to make a choice to be involved. I did it so there was a direction and a shape to the movement, so people could know exactly what it really meant.”

Ms. Burke has gotten a lot of attention for being the founder of the Me Too Movement.

“I appreciate the accolades and recognition for founding me too. But what I know is there are thousands of us across the country…I acknowledge all those who do what they have to do to make it work.”

One question for Ms. Burke talked about men and whether they are ‘allowed’ to say me too.

“I am not going to be the person who looks at a man and tells him he isn’t allowed to say ‘me too’ and discuss his sexual assault. 1 in 6 men have been sexually assaulted or abused, most of them while they were just children. This is for all survivors.”

When talking about empathy and breaking the silence, she discussed how sharing your story is a roller coaster of emotions. It is not just about relief, it’s also about reliving the experience, and having fear about putting it out there, and healing.

“Every time we break the silence, we give others permission to, as well.”

On sympathy and empathy.

“When we tell our story, the first thing people say is, ‘I’m so sorry that happened to you.’ They don’t mean to, but they are putting space between the two of them. Often, the survivor ends up in the weird position of trying to comfort the other person, saying, ‘Oh, no it’s okay…’ What we need to be doing is simply asking the survivor, ‘What do you need right now? How can I help you?’ Bring each other together, not separate.”

In her mission to continue the conversation, Ms. Burke absolutely succeeded. The audience of a few hundred hung on her words and were actively engaged in the discussion.

Ms. Burke was incredible. She is so grounded and real and very intentional in her work and how she speaks to people. She was a joy to listen to and I left the event feeling more ready than ever to be a part of the conversation and the solution for ongoing healing.

The #metoo event at Stony Brook University was sponsored by i-tri, L.I. Against Domestic Violence, Protect NY Kids, AFT, TD Bank, The Safe Center LI, VIBS Family Violence and Rape Crisis Center, Crime Victims Center, and the Association for Mental Health & Wellness.

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