Case #2197.0

Leading with Empathy: Tarana Burke and the Making of the Me Too Movement

Publication Date: November 16, 2020
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In 2017, Tarana Burke, founder of the movement against sexual violence known as Me Too was unexpectedly catapulted to international fame. The phrase she had coined to promote a sisterhood of survivors, 'Me Too,' had become a viral social media hashtag. Within days, Burke went from being a grassroots community organizer to a national icon and the movement she had nurtured for more than a decade in church basements and school classrooms, erupted into a global rallying cry that brought down the careers of dozens of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct, including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and many others in more than 80 countries.

Soon, she was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people and was awarded the prestigious Ridenhour Prize for Courage, which she shares with luminaries such as John Lewis. To Burke, a reckoning on sexual violence on such a large scale was long overdue, but neither her newfound celebrity nor the growing notoriety of the Me Too movement had ever been part of the plan. 

This case provides a rare behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of Burke as a leader from her early days as a community organizer to the years after she had become a household name. Burke’s refreshingly honest account of her internal and external dilemmas as she created and sustained a movement to empower survivors of sexual violence, against considerable odds—and despite significant backlash from many quarters—offers important lessons for students of leadership everywhere. 

Learning Objectives: 

The case provides a behind-the-scenes look at how Burke’s thought process unfolded throughout her leadership journey, enabling an in-depth exploration of the internal and external struggles that shaped the Me Too founder’s leadership approach. 

  • Students will gain deeper understanding of why regulating emotions more intentionally leads to better outcomes and how recognizing and responding to emotions of others is equally necessary to foster better results. 
  • Through key examples from Burke’s life and career, students will learn why and how leaders can meaningfully engage—and partner—with people and groups with different perspectives.
  • Last, they will examine how Burke, throughout her career, defined and refined her vision of herself as a leader, even as she worked to create and sustain a compelling vision for a movement that was empowering to all survivors of sexual violence.

Other Details

Case Author(s):
Anjani Datla
Faculty Leads:
Robert Wilkinson
Pages (incl. exhibits):
North America
Funding Source:
Joseph B. Tompkins, Jr. Fund for Case Study and Research