FAIRBANKS, Alaska - It was a night of contention at Monday evening's Fairbanks city council meeting, as dozens of men and women filled the council chambers to stand in support of survivors of sexual assault.
The big topic wasn't on an ordinance or a resolution but the main focus was on a meme, which was posted from Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly's personal Facebook account. The photo posted is a parody of Nike's ad campaign with football player Colin Kaepernick.
It depicted Christine Blasey Ford taking oath before her testimony against Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, with the Nike logo beside her and text that read "believe in something, even if you can't remember it."
Brenae Baker with the Facebook group ‘Hrrrl Scouts’ started off the public comment period at the city council meeting, addressing sexual assault and the meme that was posted.
“Women and men are assaulted in our community at a rate more frequently than anywhere else in the nation,” she said.
Almost every seat in the council chambers was filled with residents ready to share their stories and show support for survivors of sexual assault.
Another concerned citizen, Terry Boren spoke to Matherly during the night, "I was sexually molested twice before I left grade school. Once by a stranger in a dark theater when I was barely old enough to know what was happening. Of course I don't remember the man's name or the exact date so we can pretend that didn't happen."
It all began a few weeks ago, when a meme was posted online from Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly's personal Facebook page. The photo of Christine Blasey Ford was finally taken down a day later, after receiving an outpouring of public outrage.
Matherly posted an apology on his Facebook page, explaining that his girlfriend had posted the photo under his name. His entire Facebook page was deleted shortly after.
Countless women spoke on their sexual assault stories throughout the night, “I can still feel the gravel pressed deep into my palms as I crawled out of the backseat of his car, but I guess you don't believe me," another concerned citizen, Satya Peral said.
A few residents even took the time to share their support of Matherly during public testimony, including Andrea Costales and Shawn Williams.
“I do know him in a personal capacity as a friend and I will say he's one of the few people that I have come across that is good to his core," Costales said.
Mayor Matherly made a mistake, he apologized from the heart and he tried to explain how it happened. I personally believe he has learned and regrets that mistake," Williams added.
At the end of the hour for public testimony, it was Matherly's turn to share his side of the story, “I want to thank everybody here who shared a story or support and I truly understand the anger now. I have to say that when it was shared, I wasn't giving thought to that. I wasn't giving true thought, I wasn't giving thought to the hurtful words that would stir up emotion in people. I wasn't, I didn't,” he said.
Each council member also shared their thoughts on the topic, giving emotional testimony. Councilwoman Joy Huntington shared her experience from a sexual assault.
"I just wanted to share that I think it's, for all of us, it's our responsibility to make the whole process better and for each of us to teach women and men to be respectful of themselves and each other,” she said.
Councilman Jonathan Bagwill also spoke on sexual assault during his council members’ comments, speaking on his assault story as well.
“I was molested at the age of four by three females and from the age of nine into 11 by a respected man in this city,” he said. He also stated in his testimony that he finally told his mother when he was 19 as he felt that it was his fault.
A heavy topic bringing an emotional response from almost everyone involved. As made evident by both public and council member testimony, what may seem like a joke, isn't necessarily how everyone sees it.
As the council arrived at Mayor’s comments on the agenda, Matherly did not continue any further comments.