Courage Prize Recipient, 2018

Tarana Burke, who popularized the phrase “me too” as a way to empathize with sexual assault survivors more than a decade ago, is the 2018 recipient of The Ridenhour Courage Prize.

Burke is a longtime social justice activist who, in 2006, co-founded Just Be Inc, a youth organization focused on the health, well-being, and wholeness of young women of color.

In 1997, when Burke met a young girl named Heaven in Alabama, she told Burke about being sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend. Burke didn’t know what to say – and she never saw the girl again. Burke, an assault survivor herself, says she wished she had said “me too.”

Last year, “me too” independently became a viral hashtag when used by actress Alyssa Milano in response to sexual assault accusations against Harvey Weinstein, and the subsequent flood of allegations of abusive behavior by other public figures.

In October, Milano acknowledged Burke’s earlier use of the phrase, tweeting that “the origin story is equal parts heartbreaking and inspiring”. Burke has been supportive of the use of “me too” as a hashtag.

“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,'” Burke has said about the movement. Burke is currently co-writing a book titled “Where the Light Enters,” which will tell her story and recap the emergence of #metoo.

Burke is the Senior Director of Girls for Gender Equity in Brooklyn.

Her career began in Selma, AL where, over the span of a decade, she worked with the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement helping to develop hundreds of youth leaders across the country; at the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute serving as a curatorial and special projects consultant and helping to organize the annual commemoration and celebration of the Selma Voting Rights Struggle; and as Executive Director of the Black Belt Arts and Cultural Center where she created and oversaw cultural community programs designed for underserved youth.

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