The 49th Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus took over Washington, D.C., the past few days. Congresswoman Maxine Waters was the guest of honor for a gala at the renaissance, which also hosted a Democratic debate watch party. Heavy hitters were in the building: Reverend Jesse Jackson, CNN commentator Angela Rye, hip-hop artist Wacka Flocka and U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley, who has been one of three targets from Trump shouting "send her back" — even though the newly elected congresswoman was born in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In the middle of the event, Pressley spoke to BET.com about the joy she felt being at the Congressional Black Caucus for the first time since becoming an elected official: "It's an opportunity to be with community, to connect — to be with kinfolks where there's an alignment of shared values and priorities, but let's not forget outside of the receptions that this is the Annual Legislative Conference. So this is about policy, it is about legislating."
Pressley has certainly been about policy since she came into office in January. This week, she was on a CBCF panel for the premiere of PUSHOUT, a film about the decriminalization of Black girls in schools, "I have the opportunity to address the school-to-criminal-legal-system pipeline, which is growing for Black girls. The narrative has been dominated by the fact that Black and Brown boys are at risk, but policies in our schools — that on their face appear to be neutral — have a disparate impact on Black girls: hair policies, dress codes, student discipline. In my district in Massachusetts, Black girls are six times more likely to be suspended than their counterparts."
With only nine months in office, Pressley has introduced legislation to block the death penalty after the Department of Justice reinstated capital punishment. She is also fighting to lower the federal voting age and introduced Making America Safe and Secure (MASS) Act, legislation for stricter gun laws in Massachusetts. She is clearly following the legacy of the Congressional Black Caucus to be a politician with a conscience: “I think the Congressional Black Caucus is characterized as the conscience of the Congress, both in how they would they fight for in appropriation and how they legislate. And now I get to say, 'we' — not 'they'!”
The 45-year-old mom took a breath and said, “This is very surreal when I think of the physical space that I'm occupying was the Shirley Chisholm office, original co-founder of the CBC — eight members. Now we're 55 members. Our freshman class alone brought on nine members of the CBC.”
Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress, founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 with 12 other members. She was the only woman.
The CBC has been behind countless legislative actions for the Black community for decades, including the election of President Barack Obama, who famously said, “Whatever I’ve accomplished, the CBC has been there. I was proud to be a CBC member when I was in the Senate, and I’m proud to be your partner today.”
However, it is Black women who broke through in 2019. “There are five Black women that are a part of this freshman class who are now members of the CBC. When Black women are elected, they don't break glass ceilings, they break concrete ceilings,” Pressley passionately stated.
Pressley emphasized the importance of the CBC during the era of Trump: "People are hungry. They are hungry for knowledge. They're hungry for calls to action to direct this angst and this ire in the face of draconian, oppressive, bigoted, racist, xenophobic policies that have been rolled out by this administration."
Without a doubt there was joy in the room, which Pressley could certainly feel. "Where else can you be in a room with Maxine Waters, John Lewis, Karen Bass dancing the electric slide to Beyonce's "Before I Let Go" and then retreat to a corner and have a conversation about justice in the cannabis industry? That's what happens at CBC.”
Rep. Ayanna Pressley was absolutely right. The night closed with Congresswoman Maxine Waters leading the crowd in the electric slide.
Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images