By Seth Daniel
If there’s one thing that Councillor Ayanna Pressley has learned over the last three terms in office, it’s the interconnectedness of the City and its issues.
In a recent sit-down interview with the councillor, she said she has evolved from being an advocate to being one who is now beginning to make institutional changes – and those changes, no matter on what issue, have a spider web effect across the city.
“I have learned everything is connected,” she said, noting that her platform is a “holistic” approach to many issues. “All of the issues are connected. I have felt it in my own life. You can’t talk about incarceration without talking about addiction. You can’t talk about addiction without talking about mental health and you can’t talk about mental health without talking about trauma…I was at first an advocate for a lot of marginalized issues, but now I’m working to make sure these institutional changes we’ve made on these issues are codified and sustained regardless of who is on the Council and who is the mayor.”
In fact, the latter word – trauma – could be the keystone in the Pressley’s campaign this time around.
When first taking office, Pressley said she called for and held the first listening session for the Council to hear from victims of violence – and the trauma associated with the subject is what reverberated for some four hours as family after family spoke to councillors. In the next month or so, she said she will have the fourth such listening session.
The information gathered from those sessions has helped inform Pressley to call for a citywide trauma response team.
“We have lots of good programs and great partners, but we need an official protocol,” she said. “Every response needs to be special and unique. If you have been impacted by trauma, whether homicide, sexual assault or domestic violence, from a City standpoint, we should be coordinated in treating that…It really affects everyone. It’s the person who no longer sees the victim at the basketball gym or ballet. In the same way hope ripples, violence travels. That makes the trauma reverberate and there’s a residue that stays. It’s disproportionate in some neighborhoods, but it’s everyone’s problem.”
Beyond that, one clear connection to such trauma is the fact that school children are so affected by trauma of all sorts – whether it’s the murder of a friend or a domestic issue at home. Pressley said she is really big on the social-emotional aspect of schools right now, and she said she applauded the move by new Supt. Tommy Chang to establish an assistant principal of social-emotional wellness.
Pressley said she can personally relate to the issues of trauma – especially around addiction and violence. Her own story includes that of her father being grabbed by addiction, and then successfully beating his addiction while incarcerated and becoming a productive member of society.
She said she knows what it’s like to hear the word ‘junkie’ attributed to a loved one, and to live with the pain of trauma coming from violence. She said the children in the schools need to have this addressed now, or it will come out in the future.
Having just gotten married last year and becoming a stepmother to her 7-year-old daughter, Pressley said she is very in tune with the school climate.
“We cannot vilify our teachers when we don’t see the outcomes because it’s ultimately criticizing our teachers for not being good social workers, which they’re not supposed to be,” she said. “We have to be honest in the Boston Public Schools about who we’re teaching and who is coming through the door every day…You can’t delude yourself by saying because I’m moving and I’m still going that I’m sound. That’s the part we need to help our children with. It’s time delayed. Eventually, all these things are going to surface.”
Of course, that naturally leads to the aspect of jobs for young people and for people on the margins – and interestingly enough – she is touting her neighborhood liquor license initiative as a way to address that issue.
In the current term, Pressley successfully called for a new way of administering liquor licenses, unlocking 75 new licenses over three years with 80 percent of them going to Main Streets districts and historically disenfranchised areas. So far, in the first round of licenses, it has seen success, knocking the price of a license down from several hundred thousand dollars to about $3,000 in the neighborhoods. Already, two of those have been awarded in East Boston, with a third pending.
However, she said more needs to be done because she had hoped it would be even more successful and she believes the program can – again – become a “holistic” solution.
“While I’m glad it has worked out, we didn’t see a stampede of people applying,” she said. “That means there is a bigger issue in helping the potential business owner.”
She said she would like to see a restaurant czar in City government who would help those looking to start a restaurant. They would help them get access to capital and to also to create a pipeline of restaurant workers and potential owners in the vocational high school, Madison Park.
She said restaurants provide a newfound vibrancy to a neighborhood – a stabilizing force – and she said they are the paths of least resistance for those who have criminal records and want to own their own business – not to mention women and immigrants as well.
“There’s such opportunity here,” she said. “We’re making progress, and I’m encouraged by the progress, but not yet satisfied…We need full control. The state decides (on liquor licenses) and shouldn’t. The City should decide.”
Finally, she said in any new term she would concentrate a lot on development in the City – especially within the City’s 2030 visioning process – to make sure long-time residents aren’t pushed out and that transit is a top priority.
“You can’t talk about housing without talking about transit,” she said. “We can be deliberate in our visioning and planning to preserve quality of life and to have a diversity of housing stock, but if people can’t navigate the City, it doesn’t matter.” Councilor Pressley, 41, is one of five candidates running for four at-large Council seats in November.