For more than 25 years, activist and advocate Tarana J. Burke has worked at the intersection of racial justice and sexual violence. Fueled by commitments to interrupt sexual violence and other systemic inequalities disproportionately impacting marginalized people, particularly black women and girls, Tarana has created and led various campaigns focused on increasing access to resources and support for impacted communities, including the ‘me too’ movement.
A proud native of the Bronx, Tarana’s passion for community organizing began in the late 1980s when as a young girl, she joined a youth development organization called 21st Century, and led campaigns around issues like racial discrimination, housing inequality and economic justice across the city. That work, coupled with a desire to deepen her education and organizing skills led her to attend Alabama State University, a historically black institution. Her organizing and advocacy work continued throughout college and remains a pillar of her professional life.
Her career took an intentional turn toward supporting survivors of sexual violence upon moving to Selma, Alabama to work for 21st Century. She encountered dozens of black girls who were sharing stories of sexual violence and abuse, stories she identified with very well. Tarana realized too many girls were suffering through abuse without access to resources, safe spaces and support, so in 2007 she created Justbe Inc., an organization committed to the empowerment and wellness of black girls. The impacts of Justbe Inc. are widespread, as the program, which was adopted by every public school in Selma, has hundreds of alumni who have gone on to thrive and succeed in various ways. Tarana’s role as the senior director at Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn, NY, an inter-generational non-profit dedicated to strengthening local communities by creating opportunities for young women and girls to live self-determined lives, is a continuation of what she considers her life’s work.
Since #metoo, the hashtag she created more than ten years ago, went viral in the fall of 2017, Tarana has emerged as a global leader in the evolving conversation around sexual violence and the need for survivor-centered solutions. Her theory of using empathy to empower survivors is changing the way the nation and the world think about and engage with survivors, and her belief that healing isn’t a destination but a journey has touched and inspired millions of survivors who previously lived with the pain, shame and trauma of their assaults in isolation.
Watch Tarana at the 2019 MAKERS Conference: