‘Me Too’ founder Tarana Burke to receive Harvard Kennedy honors

Tarana Burke, civil rights activist and founder of the global ‘me too.’ movement for survivors of sexual assault and actress Jurnee Smollet has been chosen as this year’s recipient of Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership Gleitsman Award. The annual award honors Burke for her leadership of the global fight for survivor justice and her decades-long campaign to heal individuals and communities affected by sexual violence.

“Tarana’s work is visceral and fearless. In bringing attention to systemic failings and individual acts of courage and organizational support, Tarana has created a groundbreaking campaign that’s shaped our media and policy worlds in a truly profound way,” said Amb. Wendy R. Sherman, professor of the practice of public leadership and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School. “She reminds us that there is indeed a lot of work to be done in our own communities, including Harvard. But with ‘me too.’ she has fundamentally changed the conversation at institutions and in households around the world.”

The Gleitsman Award and $125,000 prize are given annually by the Center for Public Leadership to an individual or team whose leadership in social action has improved the quality of life in the United States and across the globe. Previous Gleitsman recipients include Malala Yousafzai, U.S. Representative John Lewis, Nelson Mandela, and Gloria Steinem.

The award will be presented to Burke at a public event at Harvard Kennedy School on Friday, December 6. In addition to the public award ceremony, Boston community organizations and Harvard students and faculty will come together for a day of resource-sharing.

“Accepting the 2019 Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award fills me with so much gratitude and humility,” said Burke. “It is an absolute honor to be in the company of such monumental changemakers who would be doing the work of justice, regardless of recognition and acclaim. I speak for all sexual assault survivor leaders when I say that we share that same fire. I dedicate this award to them, and I thank those who nominated and selected me for this esteemed recognition.”

A three-time survivor of sexual assault, Burke spent her teenage years committed to raising awareness and support for young black women and other women of color from low-wealth communities who survived sexual assault. She launched ‘me too.’ in 2006, more than 10 years before the movement had its catalytic moment in 2017. Building on her early activism work with girls in Alabama and her organization Just Be, ‘me too.’ has amassed a community of advocates at the forefront of creating solutions to interrupt sexual violence. At the cornerstone of the movement’s empowerment-through-empathy approach is a steadfast commitment to putting survivors at the front of its healing and advocacy work.

Formerly the senior director of Girls for Gender Equity, Burke continues to travel internationally, linking people and communities with organizing resources and research that will shape the next phase of ‘me too.’

Burke was awarded TIME’s Person of the Year in 2017 and in 2018 delivered her TED Talk “Me Too is a Movement, Not a Moment.” Burke contributes regularly to national media on current events and her memoir is scheduled for release in summer 2020.

Gleitsman Award Public Event Details
Friday, December 6
4:00 – 5:00 p.m. EST
Harvard Kennedy School
JFK Jr. Forum
79 JFK St. | Cambridge, MA

This article originally appeared in the Orlando Advocate.


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