'I am Not Here to Occupy Space, I am Here to Create It': Ayanna Pressley on Her Historic Role

In this essay, the Massachusetts Congresswoman reflects on the "sheroes" who came before her, and the sense of responsibility to them that motivates her drive for justice.

Badass Woman Ayanna Pressley
Photo: Getty Images

For our February Badass Woman Issue, we tasked the Massachusetts Congresswoman, and member of "The Squad", to put pen to paper and share her story. In the essay, she reveals what drives her and details the importance of serving our country at this critical moment. An excerpt of her inspiring words are available in the magazine, in stores now, and the whole piece appears below.

My mother, Sandy Pressley, was an activist, an advocate, and an organizer. She didn't raise me to ask permission to lead.

Instead of traditional bedtime stories, my mother told me stories of Black liberation and empowerment. She read me the speeches of Barbara Jordan and Shirley Chisholm. She taught me the words to "Lift Every Voice and Sing." She made sure I knew that I was powerful.

Often, I remind myself that I am not here in Congress simply to occupy space, I am here to create it.

I walk into every room shoulders back, head held high, reminded that I am the manifestation of the legacy of Barbara and Shirley and so many women who have been on the frontlines of the pursuit of justice for generations — many unnoted in our history books, but indelibly imprinted on the lives of our families and communities.

Daily, I am guided by my faith and the support of my family, colleagues, and community, which gives me the strength to show up authentically and unapologetically. From organizing and movement building in community, to sharing my hair journey, to advocating and legislating on the floor of the United States Congress, I endeavor to speak loudly and clearly about my lived experiences, those of the residents of the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District, about the challenges we collectively face, and about the bold solutions we need.

In a moment when we face overlapping crises of public health, economic inequality, and systemic racism, it's the inspiration of the ancestors, and a deep connection to community, that I draw on to give voice to the urgent fight for justice and equity. I feel the deep responsibility my mother entrusted in me — as a Black woman, as a community builder, as a policymaker — to uplift community. And I am humbled by the opportunity I have to effectuate change, because my mother taught me, too, how instrumental government can be in lifting up families and entire communities.

Whenever and wherever I speak, I'm carrying with me the stories of community — the joy, the hardship, the genius, and the challenges. Looking ahead, it's an abiding belief in the power of policy to change folks' lives for the better that compels me to continue to advocate, organize, legislate, and speak truth to power — to carry forward the legacy of my mother and all the sheroes who came before, and to make progress for our communities.

Additional reporting by Sydney Haymond

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