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Tarana Burke, founder of Just Be Inc.
Perhaps you first heard about the #metoo movement from a friend or loved one who posted it on social media. Or maybe you follow Alyssa Milano on Twitter and saw her tweet in October of 2017. Or maybe you were already familiar with the work of Tarana Burke, who coined the phrase in 2006 when she created the nonprofit Just Be Inc., which helps young women of color. Regardless of where you first heard or read the phrase, it has undeniably helped to drive the discussion of sexual violence on a mainstream level across our entire culture.

While it’s incredibly heartbreaking to know that sexual violence has had an impact on such an enormous amount of people, the movement has certainly provided a source of empowerment for women all over. It has publicly illustrated the magnitude and prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. And for many, it presented an avenue to share stories and personal experiences, often for the first time. A great deal of the posts I personally saw gave no context or further description, and they didn’t need to. Those two words granted the option to bravely declare that they won’t remain silent any longer while maintaining a level of privacy if that’s what they preferred. Two words, whether typed or said aloud, sent a message of solidarity, pain, frustration, and courage. And when someone sent that message, buried in those two words, we knew what they meant. No one needed more words. We knew what they were saying.

But I wanted to reach out to a different crowd. I wanted to write a message to those who have a story but never made a #metoo post, for one reason or another. I want you to know that as much as your story matters (and it does), you don’t owe it to anyone. Your story isn’t less valid just because you’ve chosen not to share it. The folks who have shared their stories, or have at least let it be known that they have a story, are immensely brave. But their bravery does not erase yours. Your story isn’t less important just because you haven’t said it out loud or written it out.

From the looks of it, movements and conversation like the #metoo movement aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. And I think that’s a good thing. But while that conversation continues, remember that you have permission to sit it out. I do personally believe that telling your story to the right person or in the right environment is therapeutic and can start the path to healing. But I also know that the obstacles to telling one’s story are not always easy to overcome. And if you’re not ready, that’s okay. Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing your best. You don’t owe your story to anyone, and you are 100% in control of if and when you decide to tell it.

If you ever change your mind, know that we are here for you. We’re ready to listen to you and believe you. If we aren’t the right platform or outlet for you, that’s okay too. There are many other resources, and I will list some below. While much of our society publicly praises and discusses the courage of those who do tell their stories, especially publicly, I just wanted to tell you that I know your courage is there too. It’s real. Even when you can’t feel it, remember to look for it. I promise it’s there.

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