This is the story of how a little girl named Heaven started the Me Too movement.
No, it didn’t start with Harvey Weinstein.
It didn’t even start in Hollywood.
It started with a camp counselor who couldn’t find the words to tell a little girl she wasn’t alone.
Like many people, I’d never heard of Tarana Burke until last fall.
October 15, 2017 was when someone I HAD heard of—actress Alyssa Milano from “Who’s the Boss?”—wrote the tweet that kicked off the #MeToo movement.
But she didn’t invent the term.
That honor goes to Tarana Burke.
Long before the hashtag went viral, Tarana Burke was teaching young girls of color that they didn’t have to keep silent about sexual violence and assault.
She wanted them to know they weren’t alone. These experiences happened to other girls, too. In fact, they had happened to her.
Burke had been an activist since she was 14 years old. She grew up in the Bronx. In college, she protested and spoke out on causes relating to social and economic justice.
But it wasn’t until 1996, when she was working as a youth camp director, that her mission in life crystallized.
One night she organized an all-girls bonding session, where girls were encouraged to share stories from their lives. She sat and listened to their stories, many of which were quite painful. Afterwards, the girls were encouraged to come speak with an adult if they needed to talk some more.
The next day, one of the girls approached Burke and asked to speak to her privately. The girl’s name was Heaven.
Burke resisted. She later wrote that the girl “had a deep sadness and a yearning for confession that I read immediately and wanted no part of.”  But she couldn’t fend the girl off forever. Later in the day, Heaven managed to corner her and share her story.
It was the kind of story Burke knew all too well. Heaven’s mother’s boyfriend had been sexually abusing her. Burke herself had been raped at 6 by the child of one of her mother’s friends.
But instead of letting Heaven know she understood, Burke cut the girl off and directed her to another camp counselor who could “help her better.”
She never saw Heaven again. But she never forgot her.
It seems appropriate that a little girl named Heaven is the reason that, over twenty years later, we can feel safe saying those two words out loud: “Me too.”
Burke couldn’t find those words back in 1996. She writes:
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.” 
But she can now.
In 2003, she started a nonprofit to help women heal from sexual assault. It began life as Just Be, Inc., but evolved into Me Too several years later.
So Hollywood may have popularized #MeToo, but the movement had been going strong for over a decade.
And Burke, as its founder, gets to define what Me Too is all about.
“Folks think it’s about naming and shaming, about taking down powerful men,” she says. “But they’re wrong.” 
Nor is it about making women into victims.
“In my work, we strongly discourage victim language. It pushes back on the false notion that we need or want sympathy or pity. We have already survived some of the worst things possible, and we’re still here. It didn’t kill us; it made us stronger.” 
Instead, she says, it’s about “empowermental empathy,” or empathy that empowers.
Once women understand they are not alone, they weren’t to blame for what happened, and they have nothing to be ashamed about, they can begin their healing journey.
She explains that those two words—“Me too”—have a very specific meaning.
“On one side, it’s a bold declarative statement that ‘I’m not ashamed’ and ‘I’m not alone.’ On the other side, it’s a statement from survivor to survivor that says ‘I see you, I hear you, I understand you and I’m here for you or I get it.’” 
Ultimately, her goal is to gain the funding to build a global community to help survivors of sexual violence.
“[P]eople want resources to help with healing. Me Too is about what happens after you say the words, so it’s about making sure that the survivors know there is hope,” she says. 
In honor of her work, Burke was named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2017.
At the gala celebrating her achievement, she gave a powerful speech.
I raise my glass to survivors. I raise my glass to little black and brown girls like me. Hopefully they look at me in this moment, and they find hope and they’re inspired, and they know that they’re not alone and they’ll never be alone as long as I have a microphone.” 
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