Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley delivered the opening keynote at Boston College’s fourth annual Women’s Summit Saturday morning. The Women’s Summit is an event that works to help women “achieve their personal potential,” “explore new and challenging perspectives,” and “rise together and enact change.”
After Melissa Wanyoke, MCAS ’18, referred to Pressley as an inspiration for her, Pressley returned the favor, saying, “I’m going to add you to my bio.” She noted that she was playing a “small role” in this “timely” Summit and that spaces like these—that amplify and empower the voices of women—were needed.
After explaining what her position as an at-large representative on Boston City Council entails, Pressley talked about her life and her career, making a distinction between “job” and “work,” pointing to her mother as an example and major inspiration. Although her mother worked many different jobs, her work was constant: to be an activist and to raise her kid. Pressley, the first woman of color elected to the council, also credited her mother with raising her to be a “socially, racially, and politically conscious” person and with great expectations to fight for the marginalized and better our community.
“It is because of my mother I feel morally compelled and personally responsible to make a positive contribution: to change the world,” Pressley said. “And I know … no matter my job, this will always be my life’s work.”
But Pressley said that her mother’s most important life lesson was teaching her that her voice matters. It has emboldened Pressley to “raise [her] own voice,” despite the world’s efforts to “minimize or silence it.”
These values have carried over to the City Council, where Pressley uses her voice to represent the marginalized at the decision-making table.
“If we are raising issues through a monolithic and homogenized lens, without … a diversity of perspective, opinion and thought, the issues raised will not be as fully formed and the solutions to address these complex problems won’t be either,” she said.
After her election in 2010, Pressley founded and chaired the Committee on Women & Healthy Communities and fought for the advancement of women in society by combating problems such as domestic violence, teen pregnancy, and sexual assault. She also named “trauma” a problem that heavily inhibits learning, contributes to the achievement gap, and holds the community back.
During her early years on the City Council, Pressley “governed as an advocate,” she said, and brought previously overlooked issues to the table. By fiercely advocating for the advancement of women in budget hearings and other policy meetings, Pressley has used her perspective as someone who experienced sexual assault and rape to bring about many changes that help women and girls today.
“[During my] first budget cycle as city counselor … every chief came before me to present their budget and seek my affirmative vote,” Pressley said. “To every chief I asked: What about the girls? And no one had any answers. Now, when they come into those budget hearings, they have binders.”
Pressley believes she paved the way for other women to join her on the City Council, saying that this is what people should be clapping about, not the fact that she was the first woman of color to be elected to the City Council. Pressley noted that more women are joining her on the Council, and two more may join after the elections in November.
“Often when I’m introduced as the first woman of color to be elected onto the Council, everyone claps and I feel very uncomfortable,” Pressley said. “I think it’s a very sobering commentary: in a city and Commonwealth known for the many progressive ways we’ve led … that it took 100 years to elect a woman of color to the Boston City Council.”
Featured Image by Delaney Vorwick / Heights Staff