The first time I heard Tarana Burke speak, a student asked her, straight up, ‘How did you do it?’. Presumably what they meant was, how did you come from a background of trauma and poverty, work tirelessly for decades, with so little institutional support, never knowing if you would really be able to change anything? I sat up a little straighter in the presentation hall - naturally, we all kind of had the same question. How could one person, ten years ago, alone in the Bronx, one of the most neglected parts of New York City, have started a movement, now a global sensation, and a household name?
And she chuckled a little. ‘No one’s ever going to give you a key.’, she said, smiling. ‘But what they don’t tell you is, the best key is just throwing a brick right through their window. Throw that brick, and walk right in.’ Damn, right? And that’s exactly what she did.
Do you already know who she is? Many do, but many more know her work. The #MeToo movement is often touted as being leaderless, disperse, and global. All of that is true of the movement now, and it is in many ways an incredible strength - just look at the impact it is having in India this year. However, the movement was truly started by one activist in the Bronx, who never had any intentions of being credited with it, and that activist is Tarana Burke.
We include her work here not because it is obscure or unknown (it isn’t - read more about her current work here, and watch her talk here) but because she started her project with no concept of where it could lead. She only knew that she wanted to help young black girls who had gone through what she went through, and she went school by school, asking for the girls who had dropped out, who were suspended, who skipped class. She worked with them one by one, sharing in their trauma, and encouraging community restoration and healing - by saying me too, she changed lives one by one.
This is a short piece, because Tarana has spoken about her work more thoroughly and eloquently than we could ever cover it. She is an incredible reminder of how change can and often does begin with a single person, talking to another single person, helping them heal and grow. She teaches us that movements need a solid foundation, based in community understanding and justice, to grow. And, of course, she reminds us that there’s no key as good as a brick through the window.