Unbound | Tarana Burke

Summary of: Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement
By: Tarana Burke

The Birth of #MeToo

Tarana Burke’s original message behind “Me Too” was amplified into a global movement when the Twitter hashtag #MeToo went viral in 2017. Although Burke was not involved in the social media storm, the outpouring of reactions helped to create space for survivors to come forward and share their experiences. However, Burke was concerned that marginalized voices were being left out of the movement. Despite her initial reservations, she saw the potential of #MeToo to help survivors and spread awareness of sexual abuse on a massive scale, demonstrating to those who have suffered in silence that they are not alone.


In ‘Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement’, Tarana Burke shares her journey of awakening, activism, and eventual viral phenomenon as the creator of the #MeToo movement. This book summary delves into her tumultuous childhood, deeply rooted in vulnerability and pain, which propelled her into a remarkable adulthood that revolves around advocating for others in similar situations. Follow Tarana’s growth as an activist and her work in creating a safe space for marginalized survivors of abuse to find solidarity amongst their shared experiences. This summary shines a light on the movement’s potential to empower, spread awareness, and fight against sexual abuse on a global scale.

Shattering Experience

Tarana Burke’s life was forever changed when she was raped at seven years old. Despite feeling responsible and afraid of the consequences, she made the difficult decision to stay silent to protect her stepfather. This silence came at a cost, as Burke struggled with feeling like a fraud and unworthy.

The Burden of Shame

Burke’s shame leads her to find comfort in the strict rules of a Catholic school. With the inability to confess her true sins, she doubles the number of prayers given as penance. As her relationship with her mother deteriorates, Burke turns to the church for support, but a turning point makes her question the church’s teachings.

The Root of Activism

A young Burke’s critical thinking is sparked by books about Black history at the Liberation Bookstore in Harlem, causing her to question the role of the Catholic Church in the slave trade. She fights against bullies and becomes involved in a violent incident that would later haunt her.

Encountering Maya Angelou’s Work

Maya Angelou’s work had a profound impact on Burke, a sexual abuse survivor, and helped her see her experience from a different perspective. Burke’s encounter with Angelou’s work began at the age of twelve, and despite her mother’s ban on Angelou’s book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Burke managed to read it. The book included Angelou’s explicit account of being sexually abused at the age of eight, which resonated with Burke’s own experience. Angelou’s description of being innocent and blameless despite the assault made Burke realize that she wasn’t to blame for her abuse.

Later, when Burke was in high school, her English teacher showed the class a video of Angelou performing her poem Phenomenal Woman. Watching Angelou’s confidence and fearlessness on stage, Burke was astounded. She couldn’t fathom how Angelou, who had experienced terrible sexual abuse, could be so self-assured and unashamed. Seeing Angelou gave Burke a glimpse of her own authentic power, which she had yet to tap into. That experience gave her the hope that she would one day find peace and joy. Overall, encountering Maya Angelou’s work helped Burke navigate her trauma and become empowered.

Burke’s Journey to Activism

After being transferred to a new school with a good academic reputation, Burke found her place on the track team and in a group of supportive friends. At the new school, Burke became more outspoken against racial injustices and was invited to attend a leadership camp for youth in Washington, DC. The camp was hosted by the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement, where she learned how to organize within her community and develop political strategies. The love and affirmation Burke received at the camp helped her channel her rage and develop her voice as a leader, ultimately leading her on a journey to activism.

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