It was a movement that went viral with a hashtag, but for Tarana Burke, the work that galvanized millions of survivors and allies was the result of a life dedicated to interrupting sexual violence and systemic inequalities.
#MeToo has brought waves of survivor stories to the forefront of our social consciousness, but the struggles disproportionately facing women of color are even more severe in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Burke is using her platform to create empowerment through empathy, with a focus on creating a journey for healing for all survivors. As a Bronx native, she worked in her neighborhood to address issues of racial discrimination, housing inequality, and economic injustice. After graduating from college, she moved to Selma, Alabama, and served as a director for the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, an organization that supports young people to be community leaders. Through that work, she encountered dozens of Black girls who shared stories of sexual violence and abuse — stories with which she personally identified. In 2007, she created JustBe, Inc., an organization committed to the empowerment and wellness of Black girls. In 2017, #MeToo went viral and Burke emerged as a global leader in the evolving conversation around sexual violence.
During the annual Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) Alumni weekend, Burke will be honored with the Robert Coles “Call of Service” award, recognizing her commitment to survivor-centered, survivor-led solutions. In 2007, PBHA established an annual lecture and award that brings a significant figure in public service to draw attention to important social issues and inspire future generations to serve. This award honors Robert Coles, a renowned child psychologist and civil rights activist who taught at Harvard for more than 50 years.
“I find myself looking forward to the Coles Lecture & Award every year because it fills me with so much hope and awe to be in the same room as such esteemed and instrumental changemakers,” said PBHA President Meherina Khan ’21. “Tarana Burke is someone who constantly inspires me to think critically as to how I can use the privilege that I have to be in service of others and continue to look out for the most vulnerable among us.”
PBHA’s Alumni Weekend is a call to action centered around racial equality and social justice work. The weekend offers alumni a way to connect with student leaders, staff, and one another.
PBHA’s Alumni Weekend will begin with the Robert Coles “Call of Service” lecture on Friday, Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. and continues on the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 14. For registration information, visit http://pbha.org/stories/coles2020/.