Lessons Learned from My Mentor, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

Ayanna Pressley, the U.S. Congresswoman representing much of Boston and several surrounding communities, has long championed the rights of women and girls.

Prior to her successful run in 2016, Ayanna was a Boston City Councilor At-Large, the first African-American woman to hold the position when she was first elected in 2009. Immediately after her swearing in, she created and chaired the Committee on Healthy Women, Families, and Communities, which addressed issues affecting women and girls in Boston which helped victims of domestic violence, human trafficking and ushered in comprehensive sex education in the Boston Public Schools.

In 2011, during her first re-election campaign, I was lucky to have been hired to manage her election’s fundraising committee as Finance Assistant, hosting events in every neighborhood in the city and coming up with strategies to help secure enough campaign dollars to run a competitive race. At the time, skeptics thought that our campaign was vulnerable, and that she might even lose her seat, because she ran on a platform that focused on issues affecting women and girls. We proved them wrong that November after securing 37,000 votes and topping the ticket. It was such a rewarding experience that I came back on the campaign in 2013, this time as her Finance Director, and we topped the ticket again. 

Ayanna has longstanding ties to mentoring. She often credits the mentors in her life, and her mother- Mama Pressley, for giving her opportunities in her adolescence that opened doors and shaped her into an activist. As a way to give back, she volunteered as a Big Sister while managing a hectic schedule as a councilor representing the entire city, and mentored many female staffers in her office, something she continues to do in her office in DC which is full of brilliant, capable and smart women.

While Ayanna and I bonded over fashion, and our love of dogs and red velvet cake, she actually helped me to chart a professional path that allows me to pursue my passion for social justice and do mission-driven work. Ayanna always talks about “actualizing our values” meaning that there’s motivation and a responsibility in all of us to help others, but you have to be intentional about putting your values to practice each and every day. Ayanna actualizes her values by driving and creating legislation in Congress that will uplift girls, women and entire communities such as the (P.U.S.H.O.U.T.) Act. I like to think that I follow her example in the advocacy work I do at Mass Mentoring Partnership.

When she ran for Congress, veteran A-team members from her campaigns and her former staff at City Hall all volunteered to help with canvassing, phone banking and making donations as a way to show our gratitude and give back to the woman who gave us so much- in my case my first job in politics and the continuing support and guidance that she has given me throughout my career so far. It has been so incredible to watch her command the national stage with the same drive, determination and principles she’s had since I met her nearly a decade ago.

Chelsea Aquino is the Senior Manager of Government Relations and Public Policy for Mass Mentoring Partnership.