Tarana Burke, civil rights leader and Me Too icon, gives a lecture to HSU
Tarana Burke, one of the leading and founding voices of the Me Too movement, came to speak at HSU on Sunday Feb. 3. There was a sold-out crowd and Maya Williams, a senior majoring in psychology, took the stage to introduce the civil rights icon and activist.
“Having Tarana Burke come here is important because we are on a college campus where sexual violence occurs,” Williams said. “This got me into thinking about more activism. I don’t know what step to take but I am definitely considering something.”
Burke has been a part of the social justice movement for over 25 years, having started her activism in her hometown of the Bronx. She was first drawn to activism by the infamous Central Park Five case, where five young men were wrongfully accused of sexually assaulting a woman jogging through the New York City Central Park. Media coverage of the case painted the young men in a grossly negative light and Burke felt that she could no longer sit aside and watch.
“We were protesting the way the newspaper portrayed them,” Burke said to the crowd. “I knew then that I wanted to be an organizer.”
“How do I explain to a seventh-grader, that ‘baby this isn’t love, this is a crime’?”
The roots of Me Too come from Burke’s own experiences with sexual violence, as well as the stories she heard when she was working as a camp counselor in her early 20s. At this time Burke said that when she would have one-on-one conversations with the young girls of the camp, stories of sexual violence would come out.
“The stories of sexual violence were so normalized,” Burke said. “There are so many layers of oppression that people built protections around them. How do I explain to a seventh-grader, that ‘baby this isn’t love, this is a crime’?”
Around 2005 Burke said that she started a Myspace page for the movement because it was a place where it could live and where others around the country could access information. She also used AOL chat forums and found the response from other survivors of sexual violence to be numerous and growing.
“There would be no Me Too movement if literally 19 million people didn’t go to their computers and type Me Too,” Burke said. “This is not my movement. That is not how a movement works.”
Burke went on to voice her concerns about how there’s a lack of proper leadership in this country. She said that young people have the power to make change. She expressed how there is a collective power in a movement and how we’re currently in a unique historical moment and people must work together to see the future they want. This message of collective action and activism struck a chord with Flow Lemus, a criminology and justice studies junior.
“It is important to have Tarana Burke here because of what is going on with Title IX,” Lemus said. “They are trying to make it on an even playing field for both parties. Tarana Burke being here is allowing me to push back on the administration.”
Lemus said she is currently having problems with her own Title IX case and blames the administration for a lack of support. Lemus said that she wants to work with survivors of domestic and sexual assault in the future and is considering sticking around Humboldt after she graduates to fight for the rights of indigenous people as well as other people of color.
“It is important to take what you have, to make what you need. It is hard work and heart work. This is about sowing seeds.”
“I switched to be a criminology major and I am happier because I can help my community,” Lemus said.
After Burke’s lecture, there was a round of questions and answers from the audience. A few women stood up and spoke about their history of being a survivor of sexual assault. Burke listened intently and offered advice when she could. She said that there is still a lot of work to do in regard to the Me Too movement and that there will be a set of public service announcements released later this year. For a parting piece of advice, Burke quoted an old saying from a civil rights leader.
“It is important to take what you have, to make what you need,” Burke said. “It is hard work and heart work. This is about sowing seeds.”