For over thirty years, Bronx native Tarana Burke has been organizing at the intersection of racial inequality and sexual violence. Best known for founding the Me Too movement back in 2006 – and emerging as a global leader on survivor empowerment when the hashtag went viral in 2017 – her steadfast dedication to social justice has made her one of the most influential civil rights activists of our time.

Burke’s passion for community outreach began in the late ’80s, when she joined the 21st Century Youth Leadership Movement. There, she led campaigns and launched initiatives on issues like police brutality, housing inequality, racial discrimination, and economic injustice – even organizing around the nationally-publicized Central Park Five case at the age of 16.

After graduating from Alabama State University, a historically Black institution, Burke moved to Selma where she continued working for 21st Century. It was there that she began providing counseling and resources for young, African American survivors of sexual abuse. A survivor herself, she birthed the Me Too movement as a safe space for women to share their stories and foster healing in their communities.

More than a decade later, Burke continues to promote her “empowerment through empathy” ethos, providing a vital voice in the evolving conversation around sexual violence, consent, and survivor-centered solutions. She’s served as a consultant on Ava DuVernay’s film Selma, was Named a TIME Person of the Year, and delivered a TED talk on the power of privilege to perpetuate sexual abuse in society.

In 2021 Burkle released her memoir Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement, along with the NYT-bestselling essay anthology You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience (co-edited by Brené Brown). Speaking with Elle on the books of her life, Burke recommended powerful work on healing, truth-telling, and forging Black identity. Find her reading list below, and complement with the bookshelves of Alice Walker, Anita Hill, Jane Elliott, Maya Angelou and Noname.

Tarana Burke’s Reading List

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (also rec’d by Alice Walker, Florence Welch, Howard Zinn, Ibram X. KendiJanet Mock & Zadie Smith)

“Janie’s resilience was a powerful lesson in choosing yourself.” -TB

The Color Purple by Alice Walker (also rec’d by Anita Hill, Chimamanda AdichieEmma WatsonGabrielle UnionGlennon DoyleGloria SteinemHillary ClintonJane Elliott & Janet Mock)

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

“This book validated what I saw in my life and work about how shame can crush us.” -TB

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf by Ntozake Shange (also rec’d by Alice Walker & Anita Hill)

“I have known, met or been every one of the women in this choreopoem. It amplifies the humanity of Black women unlike anything I have ever encountered.” -TB

One Drop by Yaba Blay

“Never thought about the privilege of not having to identify as Black.” -TB

Sugar by Bernice L. McFadden

“This book is so engaging and beautiful and intriguing and satisfying that I could not put it down.” -TB

Wisdom from the Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

“It is a wonderful grounding before going out in the world.” -TB

Meaty by Samantha Irby

“Samantha Irby is a comedic and life genius. Period.” -TB

Somebody’s Daughter by Ashley C. Ford

“I was so excited to devour this book. She is such a beautiful writer!” -TB

Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas by Maya Angelou

“I read this title on my mom’s shelf for years. It reads like a song lyric.” -TB

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon

“Kiese Laymon is unrelenting in his truth-telling. We are all the better for it.” -TB

The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk (also rec’d by Phoebe Bridgers)

“It will advance your healing work or help you to understand why you need it.” -TB

Untamed by Glennon Doyle (also rec’d by Mariah Carey)

“Glennon has a way of making things make sense and not seem as terrible.” -TB

More Beautiful and More Terrible by Imani Perry

“Imani Perry is one of the greatest thinkers of our time, and I thought I wouldn’t understand this work but it is completely accessible and necessary reading.” -TB

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (also rec’d by Gabrielle UnionGeorge Saunders, Ibram X. Kendi & Jane Elliott)

“Because…Toni Morrison.” -TB

(via Elle)

Categories: Activists