Tarana Burke

Full Power of Women Speech – April 13, 2018

Tarana Burke
April 13, 2018— New York City, New York
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Thank you all, thank you so much.

I want to say I'm excited to be here but I feel like this moment needs more words. I'm excited, I'm overwhelmed, I'm humbled, but mostly I'm grateful.

When Claudia Ella first emailed me asking if I would accept this honor, I didn't really know what to make of it. And then she said the Me Too movement would get a donation and I said, "Oh!" [laughter] And then she said we get free ad space in Variety and I said, "Okay." And then she said, "You'll be on the cover," and I was like, "Oh… [makes face] I don't know about that."

These past six months have been like something out of a movie, and every day that I wake up and folks still want to hear what I have to say, I'm really surprised – and motivated. I could have never dreamed that I'd live to see a time where we were having a sustained national dialogue about sexual violence in this country, but here we are.

What this moment has solidified for me more than any other time in my life is that anything is possible even in these gloomy, untenable political times, I still feel like anything is possible.

That's why I'm so desperate to change the narrative about the Me Too movement before it's too late. Right now, the conversation is mired in misconceptions. Folks think that this is about naming and shaming. They think it's about taking down powerful men. But they're wrong.

Even the women who came forward around Harvey Weinstein didn't ask for what happened to him. They didn't even think it was possible. They were simply trying to be heard and trying to be seen and believed. That's all most survivors want – to not be the only one holding on to their truth.

And finally we have a language that provides some space for that. With two words, folks who have been wearing the fear and shame that sexual violence leaves you with like a scarlet letter are able to come out into the sunlight and see that we are a global community.

In my work, we strongly discourage victim language, not only because psychologically it's more empowering to survive something than to fall victim to it, but because 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.

And so we should be engaged from a place of power. We are a constituency, a power base, and we are no longer hiding in the shadows. What started as a simple exchange of empathy between survivors has now become a rallying cry, a movement builder and a clarion call.

And so it is a mistake to think of this as a moment. Movements are long and they are built over time.

This one started over a decade ago and has been building slowly but steadily. Movements are made from moments. There was the moment when I realized that these two words were enough. There was the moment when I saw it change the trajectory of those black and brown girls' lives in Selma, Alabama. There was a moment when we realized it was bigger than a small town in Alabama.

And now we are in a moment when the whole world is ready to join us. Let's not squander this moment by allowing others to define it for us. This is a survivors' movement, [applause] a people's movement. It's about making sure that survivors of sexual violence have what they need to craft their own healing journey and the skills they need to heal our communities.

We are building something that doesn't exist. We are at critical mass and we can't do it alone.

A few weeks ago I had breakfast with Billie Jean King, the famous tennis player. She just wanted to like hear my plans. If anybody knows Billie Jean King, she's kind of like, "Come on, talk to me, let me know what's going on, let me understand." When I told her, she immediately said, "You need a million dollars, right now." [laughing] And we laughed about it and I thought, "Yeah, I do need a million dollars." [laughter]

Well, earlier this week she called me up and she said, "I believe in your vision and I believe in your leadership, so I'm gonna give you $100,000 [applause] and I'm gonna try to help you get nine more people to do the same." So once I stopped crying and jumping for joy, I said, "I can't believe you're doing this. I just – I can't believe it," and she said, "You said that you believe anything is possible and I believe you."

And I do believe that, and I know I'm not the only one. I need people to join me, though – join us. This day it means so much to me because of the people who are in this room and it's been a long time coming and people always ask me, How do you feel now? How do you feel now? And I'm just like, I don't really know how to feel but I know I have to keep going.

And really, the people at that table are a big reason why I keep going. [applause] I did not get to this place alone by any stretch of the imagination – there's no way possible. The people at that table taught me resiliency and they taught me to speak truth to power and they taught me what being a black woman is really about. I learned so much from the black women at that table. I learned about love and I learned about joy and I learned about tenacity and I learned not to give up.

And so I'm asking you all to join me. We can change the world. We've already started. If you are ready to change the world, if you are ready to join this movement, if you are ready to do the work that's necessary to end sexual violence, I can only leave you with these two words: Me Too. [applause]