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#MeToo creator answers 10 questions and perfectly explains what the movement is all about.

This black woman started #MeToo years ago. Now, she's paving the way toward change.

#MeToo creator answers 10 questions and perfectly explains what the movement is all about.
Photo by Kris Conner/Getty Images for Comedy Central.

Tarana Burke has been working as an activist for years, but her work has become internationally recognized in recent months after #MeToo went viral.

A longtime advocate for sexual assault survivors, Burke has devoted her life to improving the lives of young girls from marginalized groups. Historically, women of color have often been left out or virtually ignored in conversations around sexual assault and abuse. Burke has made black and brown girls the center of her work and is a driving force in making the #MeToo movement intersectional.

Burke’s visible leadership points to an important shift in feminist causes: Women of color must participate and create, but also be elevated as leaders and innovators.  

Burke talked with Welcometoterranova about this need and the importance of intersectionality in the #MeToo movement.


(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Was there anything that affected your journey early on for working with survivors?

I'm a survivor of sexual assault and sexual violence multiple times, and that was a catalyst for sure. Seeing how much trauma there was in our community was also definitely a catalyst for wanting to use my organizing background to do something to confront this issue.

How has the public response to survivors of sexual assault changed since you began working with them?

In these last several months, it’s changed exponentially. You have to really fight to get people to pay attention to sexual violence as an issue, specifically as a social justice issue.

It’s changed exponentially since it’s become so public and there’s so much media attention to it. People now have the space and the capacity to talk about this in a different way, and those of us who do the work have been fond of taking advantage of the moment to support survivors.

Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for National CARES Mentoring.

How has social media impacted this huge change within the last few months?

Well, I mean, it’s the catalyst for the change, right? The message has been carried forward and ... has helped shape the public narrative. Mainstream media has done a lot to shape the general dialogue, but I think social media is a great tool for undoing what the mainstream media gets wrong.

When #MeToo gained traction online, many white feminists jumped on this and someone distorted the message and its origins. Social media resurrected your work on influence on this movement. Can you speak to how you felt during that experience and what your response was?  

I felt concerned about what was going to happen to the body of work that I'd created, how it was going to be understood in this moment of pop culture meeting that work. But that was quickly dispelled within days ... I was able to insert myself into the conversation.

Intersectionality has been central to the movement's progression today. How do you think that your leadership as black woman visibly creating and leading this movement affects it as a whole?

I think that we have a dearth in black women’s leadership in general, and particularly in large-scale social justice movements in the country. So what we’ve seen over the last several years is that black women have been central to some of the larger social justice movements that have happened in the United States and abroad.

I think that my position as a leader of this work will contribute to that tradition of black women in leadership. Hopefully, what we'll see is a shift in people’s response to leadership.

Why did you make the decision to work with black and brown girls specifically?

Because that’s the work that I do and I’ve always done it. I’ve always worked in my community, and I’ve put my people first. The work expanded over the years and has expanded to deal with all kinds of survivors, but I have always centered the most marginalized people.  

Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images.

How do you think making intersectionality so central to the movement impacts feminist causes overall?

Any work — social justice work, any kind of work that is involving justice — has to have an intersectional lens. I think people have learned a word, but I don’t know if they’ve learned a practice. I think the word is used abnormally at this point for people that are having conversations, sort of like white privilege. But understanding the word and being able to regurgitate the definition is very different from amplification and actual action happening. So that remains to be seen.

There’s a growing understanding around it, and I think the younger generation really has a stronger grasp of the need for that approach to doing the work than (possibly) people in my generation.

Why do you think that young people have that stronger grasp?

People from my generation have been talking about it for 20 years, and people in this generation have picked this up. And now we have things like social media, and people can create their own media to continue to push those things out so that people can learn on their own.

It’s not so much of what people are learning in school — it’s those people that are speaking out on how to do this work. They know have access to this work that other folks didn’t have access to. It’s starting to shift the way that people think and interact.

The #MeToo movement has grown quite a bit in the last few months. How do you feel about the state of the movement today?

I think that there are positives and negatives, like anything else. I think there are huge misconceptions about what this movement is about. And the biggest part of the work for those of us who are doing the work is to change the narrative. But it's also gives us an expanded platform to talk about sexual violence in ways that we have been determined to since the beginning. So we have to take advantage of that.

Some critics have insinuated (or plainly stated) that the movement has lost its way or has been diluted, even comparing it to a witch hunt. What would you say in response to that criticism?  

I would say that they don’t know what this movement is.

First and foremost, not even including my body of work before this moment took place, Alyssa Milano’s tweet had nothing to do with anything but people making a declaration about what they experienced, so that the world could see the magnitude of it.

Everything else that has happened, every consequence, every fallout, has nothing to do with the work that we have to do to support survivors. And that’s all this movement is about. It’s about supporting survivors and doing the work to end sexual violence.

Burke is the founder of Just Be Inc. She has a forthcoming memoir on her life and the ways in which sexual violence impacts the lives of black and brown girls in America set for release in 2019.

Courtesy of Macy's

Brantley and his snowman

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"Would you like to build a snowman?" If you asked five-year-old Brantley from Texas this question, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" While it may sound like a simple dream, since Texas doesn't usually see much snow, it seemed like a lofty one for him, even more so because Brantley has a congenital heart disease.

On Dec. 11, 2019, however, the real Macy's Santa and his two elves teamed up with Make-A-Wish to surprise Brantley and his family on his way to Colorado where there was plenty of snow for him to build his very own snowman, fulfilling his wish as part of the Macy's Believe campaign. After a joy-filled plane ride where every passenger got gift bags from Macy's, the family arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado where Santa and his elves helped Brantley build a snowman.

Brantley, Brantley's mom, and Santa marveling at their snowmanAll photos courtesy of Macy's

Brantley, who according to his mom had never actually seen snow, was blown away by the experience.

"Well, I had to build a snowman because snowmen are my favorite," Brantley said in an interview with Summit Daily. "All of it was my favorite part."

This is just one example of the more than 330,000 wishes the nonprofit Make-A-Wish have fulfilled to bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses since its founding 40 years ago. Even though many of the children that Make-A-Wish grants wishes for manage or overcome their illnesses, they often face months, if not years of doctor's visits, hospital stays and uncomfortable treatments. The nonprofit helps these children and their families replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy and anxiety with hope.

It's hardly an outlandish notion — research shows that a wish come true can help increase these children's resiliency and improve their quality of life. Brantley is a prime example.

"This couldn't have come at a better time because we see all the hardships that we went through last year," Brantley's mom Brandi told Summit Daily.

Brantley playing with snowballs

Now more than ever, kids with critical illnesses need hope. Since they're particularly vulnerable to disease, they and their families have had to isolate even more during the pandemic and avoid the people they love most and many of the activities that recharge them. That's why Make-A-Wish is doing everything it can to fulfill wishes in spite of the unprecedented obstacles.

That's where you come in. Macy's has raised over $132 million for Make-A-Wish, and helped grant more than 15,500 wishes since their partnership began in 2003, but they couldn't have done that without the support of everyday people. The crux of that support comes from Macy's Believe Campaign — the longstanding holiday fundraising effort where for every letter to Santa that's written online at Macys.com or dropped off safely at the red Believe mailbox at their stores, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. New this year, National Believe Day will be expanded to National Believe Week and will provide customers the opportunity to double their donations ($2 per letter, up to an additional $1 million) for a full week from Sunday, Nov. 29 through Saturday, Dec. 5.

There are more ways to support Make-A-Wish besides letter-writing too. If you purchase a $4 Believe bracelet, $2 of each bracelet will be donated to Make-A-Wish through Dec. 31. And for families who are all about the holiday PJs, on Giving Tuesday (Dec. 1), 20 percent of the purchase price of select family pajamas will benefit Make-A-Wish.

Elizabeth living out her wish of being a fashion designer

Additionally, this year's campaign features 6-year-old Elizabeth, a Make-A-Wish child diagnosed with leukemia, whose wish to design a dress recently came true. Thanks to the style experts at Macy's Fashion Office and I.N.C. International Concepts, only at Macy's, Elizabeth had the opportunity to design a colorful floral maxi dress. Elizabeth's exclusive design is now available online at Macys.com and in select Macy's stores. In the spirit of giving back this holiday season, 20 percent of the purchase price of Elizabeth's dress (through Dec. 31) will benefit Make-A-Wish.You can also donate directly to Make-A-Wish via Macy's website.

This holiday season may be a tough one this year, but you can bring joy to children fighting critical illnesses by delivering hope for their wishes to come true.

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Amazon is Delivering Smiles this holiday season by donating essential items and fulfilling AmazonSmile Charity Lists for organizations, like Covenant House, that have been impacted this year more than ever. Visit AmazonSmile Charity Lists to donate directly to a charity of your choice or simply shop smile.amazon.com and Amazon will donate a portion of the purchase price of eligible products to your selected charity.

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