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10 September, 2018

Ayanna Pressley’s life and rise

Filed under: Myths and heroes — csa1 @ 7:40

Sources/ The Boston Globe:

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/09/08/the-life-and-rise-ayanna-pressley/pqdppGFPoZPSEwo3Ko23BJ/story.html

By Michael Levenson and Stephanie Ebbert, GLOBE STAFF  SEPTEMBER 08, 2018

(Who is  Ayanna Pressley ?

Ms. Pressley was the first black woman elected to the City Council and for three elections in a row was the city’s top vote-getter. She’s a Democrat. She won her Massachusetts primary for Congress last Sept 4th, 2018.  She will be the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, and the first black person period to represent Massachusetts in the US House of Representatives.

“Change can’t wait!” she shouted, echoing her campaign slogan, her voice raspy as it took on speed and urgency.)

An awkward silence hung over the auditorium at the Francis W. Parker School, a prestigious private school in Chicago, where 300 mostly wealthy, white high school students were supposed to be talking about race relations to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr Day.

Then, the organizer of the event, a 14-year-old freshman, stepped forward and shared her experience as one of the only black students at Parker. Something in the room shifted.

Over the next hour, Ayanna Pressley and her co-organizer, a white student named Allison Amend, led their classmates in what Amend recalled as one of the most formative moments of her childhood: an intimate, honest, and sometimes painful discussion about race. At the end, she said, people were in tears.

“She was a very trusted member of our community and she had that sort of steady hand of leadership, which is an amazing thing to see at 14,” Amend said. “You felt that it would all be all right if Ayanna was the head.”

Thirty years later, Pressley would shock the political world by unseating a 10-term congressman heavily backed by the political establishment. But her poise and authority that day in the Parker auditorium are a reminder that like her grandfather, a Baptist preacher, she has always known how to command a stage. Unlike other insurgent candidates who are finding their political ambitions in the age of Donald Trump, Pressley had been working toward this moment all her life.

“Everyone knew from when she was 10 years old that she was going places,” Amend said.

To get from Chicago’s North Side to the cusp of a seat in Congress, she would overcome sexual abuse and financial hardship, dropping out of Boston University when her mother lost her job.

The guiding force in her journey was her mother, Sandra Pressley, a tenants’ rights organizer who raised her while her father, Martin Terrell, struggled with heroin addiction and spent 16 years in and out of prison. Her father’s absence was not the only trauma in Pressley’s early life. She has said, without elaborating, that she also survived a decade of childhood sexual abuse.

An awkward silence hung over the auditorium at the Francis W. Parker School, a prestigious private school in Chicago, where 300 mostly wealthy, white high school students were supposed to be talking about race relations to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr Day.

Then, the organizer of the event, a 14-year-old freshman, stepped forward and shared her experience as one of the only black students at Parker. Something in the room shifted.

Over the next hour, Ayanna Pressley and her co-organizer, a white student named Allison Amend, led their classmates in what Amend recalled as one of the most formative moments of her childhood: an intimate, honest, and sometimes painful discussion about race. At the end, she said, people were in tears.

“She was a very trusted member of our community and she had that sort of steady hand of leadership, which is an amazing thing to see at 14,” Amend said. “You felt that it would all be all right if Ayanna was the head.”

Thirty years later, Pressley would shock the political world by unseating a 10-term congressman heavily backed by the political establishment. But her poise and authority that day in the Parker auditorium are a reminder that like her grandfather, a Baptist preacher, she has always known how to command a stage. Unlike other insurgent candidates who are finding their political ambitions in the age of Donald Trump, Pressley had been working toward this moment all her life.

“Everyone knew from when she was 10 years old that she was going places,” Amend said.

To get from Chicago’s North Side to the cusp of a seat in Congress, she would overcome sexual abuse and financial hardship, dropping out of Boston University when her mother lost her job.

The guiding force in her journey was her mother, Sandra Pressley, a tenants’ rights organizer who raised her while her father, Martin Terrell, struggled with heroin addiction and spent 16 years in and out of prison. Her father’s absence was not the only trauma in Pressley’s early life. She has said, without elaborating, that she also survived a decade of childhood sexual abuse.

Pressley also remembers being with her mother at 10 years old at the victory party for Harold Washington, who became Chicago’s first black mayor in 1983. Sandra Pressley was “my shero and bedrock and foundation,” her daughter says, using a word for a female hero.

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