In Boston City Council chambers Wednesday, Roxbury district councilor Tito Jackson took the floor and began to speak. His voice shook a little, and he took a short break to compose himself as he stood before advocates, councilors, and public safety officials.
When he recovered, he began a story that hushed the room, of the day he found out that he was born to a 13-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted by two men.
It was the first time that most people in the audience had heard Jackson share his story. Speaking during a discussion on assaults on women, he wanted to make a point.
“In this city and in cities across the country, when women are assaulted, we give them whistles,” Jackson said, speaking to the men in the audience. “But, you know what, brothers? What we need to do is to step up and be the solution. This is not a women’s problem. In fact, if you look at the statistics it is a men’s problem.”
Jackson’s startling revelation came at the start of Wednesday’s council meeting on “White Ribbon Day,” an international campaign that targets men and urges them to pledge to keep women safe.
The campaign began in 1991 in Canada on the second anniversary of one man’s massacre of 14 women in Montreal and spread to 60 countries, the Massachusetts White Ribbon Day Campaign said on its website.
Jane Doe Inc. launched this state’s effort in 2008, focusing on “positive masculinity” and encouraging boys and men to speak out against violence, the website said.
Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley brought the effort to City Hall in 2010. A year later, she stood before a public meeting and declared she was raped as a college student.
Pressley, who had previously said she was a survivor of abuse as a child and adult, made the statement as she discussed an upcoming hearing on sexual assaults on local college campuses.
Jackson’s story is a powerful testament, she said Wednesday.
“I think it’s very brave when people share their story,’’ said Pressley. “I know personally the impact that can have. You can tell his story impacted and captivated everyone. He had everyone’s full attention.”
Jackson, who was adopted at 2 months old, said he first told of the violence against his birth mother during the hearing that Pressley called after she shared her own abuse.
“I think it makes me stronger every single time I say it,’’ Jackson said after Wednesday’s council meeting. “It means that this is a fight to redefine what manhood is to me. But it’s a fight that every man should take.”
Jackson said he began inquiring about his birth mother while he was a student at the University of New Hampshire. At the time, he had gone to the doctor, and the doctor wanted to know about his family’s medical history.
Jackson decided to contact the adoption agency that worked on his case to see what officials knew about his family’s medical records.
“I got a letter [from the agency] that I was born to a 13-year-old mother who was sexually assaulted by two men,’’ Jackson recounted.
At the end of the speech, the audience stood and clapped. Mayor Martin J. Walsh entered the council chamber and hugged Jackson tightly.
“As men, we have a responsibility to stand up for our women in our community, and we have a duty to teach boys that being a man it is our duty to treat women with respect,” Walsh said.
He then led the men in the audience to take an antiviolence pledge.
“I will speak out against attitudes and behaviors that contribute to sexual assault and domestic violence,’’ they all said. “I will remind myself and others that gender violence is a men’s issue that affects us all.”
Later, Jackson said it gets easier to talk about his history.
“For us guys, all of these secrets, this vulnerability, this pain, this toughness — all of those boxes we put around ourselves only damage us internally and cause loneliness and suffering and, often, depression,’’ he said. “Everybody has something that is going on with them.”Meghan Irons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.