Tarana Burke, left, Luvvie Ajayi, Tamika Mallory, and Symone Sanders speak onstage during the 2018 Essence Festival presented by Coca-Cola on July 6, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Photo: Photo by Paras Griffin (Getty Images for Essence)

There’s a reason Tarana Burke is so often featured on our #WomanCrushWednesday: the activist and #MeToo movement founder consistently does the work of advocacy and uplift for black women and girls, a fact she made sure to remind attendees of the “I’m Woke, Now What?” panel at the 2018 Essence Festival, as reported by Essence.

“The #MeToo movement is for you and we have to stop giving up our power,” Burke told the predominantly black, female audience. “I’m looking you in your face and telling you I started this for you and you let white people tell you it’s somebody else’s? This is yours.”

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From the festival’s “Empowerment Stage,” Burke, along with fellow panelists, writer and blogger Luvvie Ajayi, activist Tamika Mallory and political pundit Symone Sanders, talked about the importance of accountability to our communities and our movements, even when it means calling out former faves.

Tarana Burke speaks onstage during the 2018 Essence Festival presented by Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 6, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Photo: Paras Griffin (Getty Images for Essence)

Burke, who has been a longtime critic of singer and alleged decades-long sexual predator R. Kelly, and a booster of the #MuteRKelly movement, minced no words when addressing those who think the man can be separated from his music.

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“We’re talking about a man who systematically preys on black and brown girls and I have people on a regular basis tell me, ‘It’s just a song’ ... Every dime you put in that motherfucker’s pocket, he is using it to brutalize black and brown children,” Burke said.

Essence

Tamika Mallory, co-founder of 2017's Women’s March, agreed, saying that passive activism isn’t enough when it comes to combating those who do harm to our communities—or supporting movements that help them, telling the Essence Fest audience:

A lot of people will like something that I do [on social media], and then when have a rally—which is when we’re actually taking the force to the front of the problem—and not enough people show up. ... What happens is sometimes people sit back and say, ‘OK, maybe on social media it’s important, but it’s not important in terms of our bottom dollar. So when a young woman by the name of Chikesia Clemons can be dragged up and down Waffle House all over the place ... and we can still go to the Waffle House, even though we’re sharing the video on social media, that’s a problem. ... I don’t need your likes, I need your movement.

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Tamika Mallory speaks onstage during the 2018 Essence Festival presented by Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 6, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Photo: Paras Griffin (Getty Images for Essence)

Political pundit Symone Sanders told the audience we have an obligation to not only hold the most problematic among us accountable but to take those who support them to task as well—and yes, that means even our loved ones.

“The problem is we have yet to hold one another accountable,” said Sanders. “Because you can’t be my homegirl and walk up in the Waffle House. You can’t be with me and let R. Kelly play because we’re not going to be good.”

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Symone Sanders speaks onstage during the 2018 Essence Festival presented by Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 6, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Photo: Paras Griffin (Getty Images for Essence)

And for the “what abouts” who insist on comparing the allegations against R. Kelly (or Bill Cosby, etc.) to those of famous white men, Burke shut them down:

“There’s always going to be somebody else. Forget about what other people are doing and forget about what white people are doing,” she said, making it clear that her first priority is “the little children who look like me and my child.”

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Most importantly, all of us should feel empowered to be accountable for not only ourselves but our communities.

“It’s yours if you say it’s yours,” Burke said. “Reclaim your power and stop giving it up to other people.”