By Monica Henderson, SWSG Freshman Mentor, University of Pittsburgh
Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo social media movement and longtime advocate for women, visited Pittsburgh on Feb. 6, 2018. More than 15 SWSG mentors and staff gathered to hear her speak at a public event. Below is mentor Monica Henderson’s account of what she found to be a life-changing experience.
As soon as I heard about Tarana Burke’s event, I began looking forward to it. I live for these events about social justice and empowerment, because it motivates me to make a difference and become a more culturally active person. For example, now I know that #MeToo started more than a decade ago.
Tarana gave off a warm feeling as soon as she walked in the room, and she made it clear she was not a “celebrity” – she is the same person she was before the #MeToo campaign took off, doing the same work with the same attitude. I told myself I wasn’t going to let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity go by without saying something to her.
I attended a VIP question/answer session with her and maybe 100 other girls. Even after her facilitator said, “No more questions,” my hand shot up. Tarana was so nice and called me “honey,” and she said she would love to answer my question. I asked something along the lines of, “I am a young, 18-year-old female of color who is looking to make a difference, no matter how small, in this world. You inspire me and I know that once you were in my shoes. If you could tell me one inspirational thing, what would you say?” I was so awed that she was talking to me. Her answer was pretty much, “Just do what you know is right and makes you feel content. That is all you can ask for in life – that you do what brings you joy and your time will come.” Then, she gave me a hug.
An hour later, I listened to her public speech (which over 1,000 people listened to), and got to sit in the front. I wanted to share some of my favorite points of hers:
- You are worthy of existing. We need to teach young girls self-worth instead of self-esteem. Then you will be grounded and can face whatever the world throws at you.
- We organize around everything else in our community (police brutality, money problems), so why not sexual violence?
- Take what you have and make what you need.
- Healing as a community is most important and this is done by the power of empathy.
- She heals by cultivating joy. She thinks that having a pocket of thoughts to pull out of little things that bring you happiness is important.
- Surviving is hard work.
- #MeToo is not a question but instead an indication of the work that needs to be done.
- If you aren’t scared, then it’s not really courage.
- We cant be guided by the media, we need to guide them.
- Remember, victims are most importantly SURVIVORS.
Tarana Burke has inspired me to keep advocating for equity and inspiring the young female generation. I never know when my moment will come on the big stage and I cannot wait to see how I can make an impact. The evening with Tarana was such an inspirational and life-changing experience, and I believe it’s important for us as leaders and visionaries of change to keep pushing and striving for what we believe in.
Hearing this speech was so moving. I thank you for this opportunity.