The ‘me too.’ movement started in 2006 as a program of our organization, Just Be Inc. In our work with young, women we not only encountered more and more disclosures of sexual violence, we also encountered almost an equal amount of youth who had experienced sexual violence and didn’t know how to name it. When we turned to guidance counselors and local rape crisis centers for assistance we found them to be ill equipped to confront the issue.

The only ‘expertise’ we had was as survivors ourselves.

I had spent many years trying to understand and heal from the trauma of my own sexual assaults. It wasn’t until I was able to connect with other folks who created safe space for me to process my pain and who deeply empathized with me that I felt like I had ‘permission’ to heal. They literally gave me a pathway from victim to survivor and I wanted to do that for the people in my community – and in particular the young people.

As the work started to grow the need to expand ‘me too.’ beyond young women of color became obvious. While the work we do is still largely focused on Black and Brown women and girls, it also included those who identify as women and those who don’t conform to any gender. There is no question that sexual violence is not limited by race, class or gender; but the responses to it are certainly. Me too exists so that folks who are often left out the conversations about survival and healing have a place to process and find an entry point in the healing trajectory.

We are organizers at heart who want to uplift the idea of radical community healing as a social justice issue and ensure that our folks know that healing and wholeness is possible and we want to use, among other things, the power of empathy to fuel it.

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 when I met Heaven*. 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 the session 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.

The next day Heaven*, who had been in the previous night’s session, asked to speak to me privately. She was a sweet-faced little girl who kind of clung to me throughout the camp. However, her hyperactive and often anger-filled behavior betrayed both her name and light, high-pitched voice and I was frequently pulling her out of some type of situation. As she attempted to talk to me that day though the look in her eyes sent me in the other direction. She had a deep sadness and a yearning for confession that I read immediately and wanted no part of. Finally, later in the day she caught up with me and almost begged me to listen…and I reluctantly conceded.  For the next several minutes this child, Heaven*, struggled to tell me about her “stepdaddy” or rather her mother’s boyfriend who had done all sorts of monstrous things to her developing body…I was so horrified by her words and the emotions welling inside of me ran the gamut as I listened until I literally could not take it anymore…which turned out to be maybe less than 10 minutes. Then, right in the middle of her sharing her pain with me, I cut her off and immediately directed her to another woman counselor who could “help her better.”

I will never forget the look on her face.

I will never forget the look because I think about her all of the time. 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.

                                                                                                                     -Tarana Burke