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‘She Thrives’: Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

NCEN: 'She Thrives': Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

By Latoyia Edwards

She's the first black woman to be elected to represent Massachusetts in Congress, but Ayanna Pressley's public journey in politics is buoyed by a very private story of how she was inspired to lead.

Instead of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, as a preschooler, Congresswoman Pressley was learning about activism.

"My mother was telling me stories of black liberation and empowerment and making sure I knew the words of 'Lift Every Voice and Sing,'" she said.

She tested academically gifted at age 4, so her mother Kai Ayanna sacrificed financially, even risking eviction, to ensure Pressley would attend Chicago's Francis Parker School, a prominent K-12 pathway program, where she was class president from seventh grade through her senior year.

"Nobody could beat me. I don't know if it's because I was running super competitive races or maybe I just spoke the loudest," she said, laughing.

Pressley was a leader but not a great student, due to distractions at home.

"My father who had gone on to do incredible things - he was an author and professor in journalism -- but he was in the throws, like so many people and families of addiction, and cycling in and out of the criminal justice system, so that was very destabilizing for our household," she said.

Her father's addiction wasn't the only factor that impacted her childhood and young adult years. Pressley suffered sexual abuse as a child and as a student at Boston University, which is when she first began advocating for victims as a legislative aide for Congressman Joe P. Kennedy II and Sen. John Kerry, and then later as a Boston city councilor.

The Democrat said the first time she received hate mail was when she disclosed she was a survivor of campus sexual assault.

"I was called a liar, a whore," she said. "It was the first time, but I have no regrets."

Sharing her story, she said, made some uncomfortable, adding, "but I'm not afraid to make people uncomfortable in the name of progress."

In 2018, Pressley gained national recognition when she defeated 10-term incumbent Michael Capuano, becoming the first woman of color to be elected to represent Massachusetts.

While she is unapologetic about her stance on issues affecting the people of her district and beyond, she says she's not currently planning a run for the White House.

"On challenging days, I feel peace. There is an alignment that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing and when I'm supposed to be doing it, and who I am supposed to be doing it with, and that feels good," she said