HHFA's "Sista to Watch" is:HHFA's "Sista To Watch" is:
Councilor Ayanna Pressley
Occupation: At Large Boston City Council Member
Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts
Twitter handle: @ayannapressley
Ayanna Pressley was elected to the Boston City Council on November 3, 2009. Pressley, the only woman in a field of 15 candidates, earned one of four At-Large spots on the city’s 13-member council with nearly 42,000 votes. After being sworn in on January 4, 2010 she became the first woman of color to serve in the 100-year history of the Boston City Council.
In keeping with the historic nature of her win, Councilor Pressley formed and is chairing the Committee on Women & Healthy Communities, a new standing committee. The committee is devoted to stabilizing families and communities, reducing and preventing violence and trauma, and combating poverty.
Councilor Pressley serves as the vice chair of the Arts, Film, Humanities & Tourism Committee and the vice chair of the Public Safety Committee. She also sits on a variety of committees, including the City, Neighborhood Services & Veterans Affairs; Economic Development & Planning; Education; Government Operations; Ways and Means; and the Special Committee on Census & Redistricting.
Pressley is originally from Chicago. She became a Boston resident after moving to the city to attend Boston University, where she studied Urban Affairs and Political Science. Pressley is a recipient of National Urban League Women of Power Award, Boston Globe Magazine Bostonian of the Year Award and the Big Sister Association Believe in Girls Award among other recognitions. She previously served as an aide to Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy and Sen. John Kerry.
What inspired you to want to work in the political arena?
My mother voted faithfully and always took me with her on Election Day. I remember feeling powerful when she would pull that curtain to cast her ballot.
My mother raised me alone while my father battled addiction and was in out of prison and my life. She worked hard and made great personal sacrifices to ensure that I would receive the best education and have the best life possible. Like most working families, our daily life was a struggle, but on Election Day, we felt powerful. My mother was a proud, card-carrying Democrat and believed in good government, but she also believed in holding government accountable.
One of my mother's many jobs was as a tenant organizer for the Urban League of Chicago, and her activism fueled my desire to be a catalyst for change. She fought for safer streets, better schools and jobs. It crystallized for me early on the moral imperative I have to do the same.
My professional experiences in government afforded me a rarefied political education, but it is truly my life experiences that I believe best qualify me to do this work. They have directly informed my policy agenda to fight for women and girls, stabilize families, and build healthier communities by combating poverty, violence and reducing trauma.
What advice do you have for Black women that want to spark change?
Don’t wait for permission to do it, and don’t wonder if you know enough or have done enough to be a catalyst for change. Also, don’t just spark a flame: fan it. It’s easier to begin a movement than it is to sustain it. Remain committed. If we really want to see systemic, generational change and social transformation, we need Black women leaders in it for the long walk.
What do you feel is the single most pressing issue facing Black women today and why?
Poverty. It is the most critical determinant for health and educational outcome. The wealth, health and educational disparity gap continues to widen. If we don’t address poverty, individuals can’t stabilize, families can’t build wealth and communities are deprived of the opportunity to fully thrive.
Tell us about a woman mentor that has helped you on your journey?
I draw daily inspiration and direction from great Black women visionaries, coalition builders and orators like Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan and the brilliant and courageous Anita Hill. I’ve been mentored in my journey by their examples. But without question, my greatest mentor has been my mother. She passed away in 2011 but she remains my guiding light in all that I do.