The #MeToo movement did not begin with the hashtag that changed the world. Before garnering global attention, founder Tarana Burke dedicated her time to tackling sexual violence in Black communities.
Marking the conclusion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dream Week,, Burke delivered the keynote address at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on Jan. 27. Hosted on both the Chicago and Evanston campuses to celebrate Black history and commemorate 150 years of women at Northwestern, Dream Week also included the Alpha Phi Alpha’s candlelight vigil and Eva Jefferson Day.
In the address, which followed a spoken word performance by Weinberg junior Kourtni McNeil and an introduction by SESP junior and ASG executive officer of justice and inclusion Soteria Reid, Burke spoke of the need for healing in marginalized communities, and related her personal experiences of combatting sexual violence in her community.
“I’m talking about laws and policies,” Burke said. “I’m talking about culture shifts. Those are real things that we can do to heal our communities.”
The #MeToo movement gained global attention in October 2017 when the hashtag appeared in its first tweet. The tweet, Burke said, received hundreds of thousands of retweets, likes and comments. On Facebook, the same post garnered 12 million posts, comments and reactions within 24 hours. In the span of a year, the use of the hashtag on Twitter exceeded 19 million.
Despite the movement’s social media traction, #MeToo began with Burke’s community organizing and the establishment of her nonprofit Just Be Inc in 2006. Just Be Inc. stemmed from her work counselling middle schoolers in Selma, Alabama. During her time serving young girls, she said she discovered sexual abuse hidden in the community and the lack of community awareness and action.
“When there is gun violence in the community, there is a collective agreement that we need to heal from this violence in our community,” Burke said. “You hear people saying, ‘We have to do something about the gun violence. This is unacceptable that we have children dying in the streets.’ What happens when a child is molested in a community? Everybody’s quiet.”
Burke said the silence is based on various factors affecting communities of color, including cultural expectations, a desire to not disrupt a family structure and the danger of brutality or deportation occurring as a result of police intervention. “The bigger overarching thing is silence is another form of violence,” she said.
“If we could see that sexual violence and the trauma that people hold is another type of death, then maybe we can respond to this the way we respond to the kind of violence where we see blood in the streets,” Burke said.
Burke spoke about her work as an organizer and the importance of creating spaces to educate and have conversations about sexual abuse, race and sexuality to promote healing.Weinberg freshman Samantha Anderson said she appreciated the emphasis Burke placed on healing, specifically for this generation of activists.
“I felt like I learned what kind of education and conversations we need to have more of,” Anderson said. “And most importantly, the kind of action we should be taking from those conversations.”
Burke concluded her address with a call to action for marginalized communities to end the stigma of sexual violence. She emphasized the importance of educating by initiating conversations, specifically with young people.
“What would it look like if we had kitchen table conversations with young men, young people in our community about how they respond to sexual violence, about consent, about boundaries and respect?” Burke said. “That’s how we shift culture.”