In 2018, Ayanna Pressley became the first Black congresswoman to represent Massachusetts.

Prior to that, she was the first woman of color on the Boston City Council. And looking at the line of progressive women who've come into office after her, one can see what her representation has meant for local politics and the electorate.

In light of her five-year anniversary of being elected, I recently sat down with the congresswoman at a staple of her district, Dudley Café in Nubian Square. She remarked just how good it was to be home.

“I work in Washington, but I work for the people of the Massachusetts 7th [District],” Pressley said. “When I get to come home and just to be in community, in proximity, it's always very grounding.”

Right now, there’s a lot of pressure among Washington Democrats because of a split over the war between Israel and Hamas. Pressley has called for a ceasefire, while some of her party colleagues have declined to do so.

“Even though we may at times see a different path to achieve an end, I think it's fair to say we all want the same end, which is peace — lasting peace,” Pressley said.

She noted that she is not alone in pushing for a ceasefire.

“This is something that well over 40 members of Congress have called for, that the U.N. has called for. The president of France, the Pope, and certainly the millions that have mobilized in our streets,” Pressley said. “I support a ceasefire because I want to save lives, all lives. And very often in government, these unjust and binary choices are foisted onto us. And I reject that on every issue, not just when it comes to Israel and Gaza.”

Two women sit in a coffee shop, video cameras pointed at them.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley spoke with GBH's Paris Alston at the Dudley Cafe in Roxbury.
Joanie Tobin GBH News

When asked if she was excited to support Biden's re-election, Pressley said she instead sees it as imperative that people re-elect him.

“I think a lot about Jan. 6 and just how close we came to losing it all,” she said.

Pressley added that the Republican majority in the House has routinely undermined and rolled back gains in civil rights.

But to win, she said, Democrats have to prove that they can make positive impacts in people’s lives.

“We win when we deliver,” Pressley said. “I don't want people to know what Democrats have done based on a press release. I want them to know based on what they feel in their life tangibly.”

Among Pressley’s key issues have been advocating for the CROWN — Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair — Act, which bans racialized hair discrimination. Pressley entered Congress with braids in her hair before being diagnosed with alopecia.

“I embrace my alopecia crown. But I loved having braids,” she said. “There is an incredible joy when you can show up in the world fully, authentically and unapologetically as yourself.”

Her five years in Congress have also coincided with her stepdaughter, Cora, growing into a high schooler.

Pressley shares bits about coparenting Cora, like the time when Cora was 12 and made a PowerPoint presentation trying to convince her parents to let her dye her hair blue.

At the time, Pressley and her husband, Conan Harris, said no.

“When I tell you, the backlash I got,” Pressley said, laughing. “They came for me. I'm happy to report that actually, we have supported her in her personal and self-expression and she has dyed her hair.”

Cora is 15 now. The day of her eighth grade graduation was the day the U.S. Supreme Court released its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson, reversing Roe v. Wade.

“I remember just starting the day out, feeling so hopeful, optimistic about our future. And of course, I still am. But in real time when that decision came out, I felt so heavy,” Pressley said. “I didn't know what else might be coming. That would mean that my daughter could grow up in a world where she has fewer rights than I grew up with.”

As chair of the Abortion Rights and Access Task Force, she said, she’s aimed to “use the power of the pen as a legislator to ensure health care access.”

“Abortion is health care,” Pressley said.

She’s also been trying to address maternal morbidity, and the racial disparities involved. Her own grandmother, Carrie, died giving birth to her father’s youngest brother in the 1950s.

“When you consider the fact that Black women are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth or post-birth in complications, this is a matter of life and death,” she said.

Overall, she said, she wants young people who see her tenures in Congress and Boston City Council to feel that their future could also hold power.

“It is a testament to the electorate that I became the first woman of color, first Black woman, to serve on [the Boston City Council] alongside some incredible public servants,” she said. “And now those are presidents of important nonprofits, our attorney general, our mayor, a state senator. And now to see really a sea change, we have the most representative government at every level that we've ever had, including our power duo at the State House in our governor and our lieutenant governor. And it's been very humbling to be a part of that being ushered in.”