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Where did “Me Too” come from? Activist Tarana Burke, long before hashtags

Tarana Burke.

By Globe Staff 

The origins of the #MeToo movement sit squarely on the shoulders of an advocate named Tarana Burke.

Years before actress Alyssa Milano’s tweet publicized the idea of sharing “me too” to add one’s experiences with sexual harassment or assault to the widening cultural conversation, Burke, a black woman, blogger, and women’s advocate, was spreading that healing message to survivors of trauma. Late Monday, Milano gave Burke credit for founding the “me too” wave and shared a link to Burke’s youth organization, Just Be Inc. Its mission is “the health, well-being, and wholeness of brown girls everywhere,” according to its website.

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“The origin story is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring,” Milano wrote on Twitter.

Word spread with many thanking Burke on Twitter and giving credit where credit is due.

Burke responded on Twitter Monday night and noted that the “Me Too” was created to remind women, particularly women of color, that they are not alone.

“It made my heart swell to see women using this idea,” she wrote. “One that we call ‘empowerment through empathy.’”

Burke also posted a 2014 video on Instagram from a march to End Rape Culture in Philadelphia where she can be seen wearing a “me too” shirt and talking about the movement.

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“And ‘me too’ is a movement to, among other things, radicalize the notion of mass healing,” Burke said on the video. “As a community, we create a lot of space for fighting and pushing back, but not enough for connecting and healing.”

She also gives insight into the idea’s origins on Just Be Inc.’s website.

Burke wrote that the “me too movement” started in the “deepest, darkest place in my soul.”

“As a youth worker, dealing predominately with children of color, I had seen and heard my share of heartbreaking stories from broken homes to abusive or neglectful parents when I met Heaven,” Burke said. “During an all girl bonding session at our youth camp, several of the girls in the room shared intimate stories about their lives. Some were the tales of normal teenage angst and others were quite painful. Just as I had done so many times before, I sat and listened to the stories, and comforted the girls as needed. When it was over the adults advised the young women to reach out to us in the event that they needed to talk some more or needed something else – and then we went our separate ways.”

Burke spoke of the young girl who confided in her about her stepfather sexually assaulting her. Burke admitted that she referred the young girl to another female counselor.

“I will never forget the look because I think about her all of the time,” Burke said. “The shock of being rejected, the pain of opening a wound only to have it abruptly forced closed again -- it was all on her face. And as much as I love children, as much as I cared about that child, I could not find the courage that she had found.

“I could not muster the energy to tell her that I understood, that I connected, that I could feel her pain. I couldn’t help her release her shame, or impress upon her that nothing that happened to her was her fault. I could not find the strength to say out loud the words that were ringing in my head over and over again as she tried to tell me what she had endured….

“I watched her walk away from me as she tried to recapture her secrets and tuck them back into their hiding place. I watched her put her mask back on and go back into the world like she was all alone and I couldn’t even bring myself to whisper…me too.”


Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com
Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra.