Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, plans to continue to create a safe haven for victims of sexual harassment and assault. She spoke in the University of Memphis Ballroom to close out the UofM’s celebration of Women’s History Month.

Memphis mayoral candidate and Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, who was also at the event, spoke about the injustice surrounding women.

“It doesn’t look like a state where a representative can be accused of sexual assault and can lead education committee,” Sawyer said. “It doesn’t look like a state where Cyntoia Brown has to serve an additional eight months in jail. It doesn’t look like a city where we’re still trying to figure how girls can get to school today every day because they don’t have access to pad and tampons. It doesn’t look like a city where women who are assaulted have to worry if whether or not their rape kit will be tested. Since I know this reality is not what I want of my future, what I have begun to hope is that future is one that shines brilliantly.” 

The #MeToo movement started with the mission to help survivors of sexual violence find pathways to healing. The hashtag eventually turned into a worldwide viral community by encouraging conversation about sexual assault. The movement ultimately rebranded the expansion of global conversation surrounding sexual violence victims.  

Burke said her focus on helping black survivors stems from her grandfathers practice of Garveyism. With a strong black feminist mother and Pan Africanist family roots, Burke read books by Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison and even Alex Haley’s “Roots” alongside her Catholic school’s assigned reading.

“It was fine for me to do that (enroll in Catholic school) as long as I read a history book alongside of the Bible,” Burke said.

Reading books by Ivan Van Seritima and Lerone Bennett Jr. as child created a foundation in what Burke called different from other children.

“I didn’t have the typical childhood where you go get ice cream with your granddaddy on Sunday,” Burke said. “He would drive me down to Harlem to a record store where you use to be able to buy cassette tapes of scholars, so John Herik Clarke and Dr. Ben Jochannan would be on cassette. He would buy them and then we would drive around listening to them.” 

Burke credits her family for giving her a strong foundation that she used to identify injustices at an early age, whether it was questioning her childhood teachers on the subject of religion and history or organizing in her community as part of the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement. 

“I grew up very active in social justice, (21st Century Youth Leadership Movement) molded me,” Burke said. 

Recently, Burke’s work has been connected to the spotlight on film producer Harvey Weinstein and singer-songwriter Robert Kelly as well as the people who have accused them of sexual assault and violence, but Burke shies away from #MeToo reputation of taking down powerful men.

“This whole idea that #MeToo is about taking down powerful men, it comes from the fact that the media focuses on one small piece of this work,” Burke said.

Burke mentioned how people like Terry Crews have opened the door for male survivors.

“The first place we have to do is engage men is as survivors in this movement,” Burke said. “The second thing is that everyone doesn’t identify as a man or a woman, so if it’s a woman movement, you know how many people (feel) out it.”

Burke spoke about how the book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk helped her compartmentalize shame when dealing with survivors and her own self-care. Burke shared her battles with joy before closing the lecture.

“For those of us who don’t have access, for those of us who don’t have time, for those of us who are still trying to figure it out, you may have not gotten to that place yet,” Burke said. “Think about the things that make your heart smile for a second. Protect it like it’s the thing that will save your life. I am in the process of just trying to get back to that. I think survival is constant battle to get back to ourselves. Honestly, I don’t want to be the face #MeToo in five years. I want some young unicorn to come take this job.” 

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