The Bruce C. Boiling Municipal Building in Roxbury was packed Saturday afternoon as people concerned about equal access to economic opportunity for black entrepreneurs waited to hear from Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley and six of her congressional colleagues.
Pressley and her colleagues are part of the Congressional Black Caucus. The group aims to visit each member's district to get a sense of the problems facing black communities across the country. While it was founded in 1971, this is the group's first visit to Boston.
"We call them fly-ins. We go to different cities. It's an opportunity for us to engage with the population in different cities," Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, of California, who is chairwoman of the caucus, said. "To see the problems and the issues. But we do this, because 2020 is a critical year."
Often referred to as "the conscience of the Congress,” caucus members say discussing racial inequality and injustice is more important now than ever.
Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, who got a standing ovation before she spoke, said it's necessary that members of Congress speak up and advocate for the black community.
"We have to make sure that we have people who have proximity to the issues we're dealing with, in the proximity of leadership," Omar said.
Pressley noted that while black people in Boston have made great strides — with her election, a black police commissioner, a black district attorney and a black sheriff — there are still gains to be made in other areas, like the wealth gap and the newly lucrative cannabis industry.
"We know that when the rest of America gets a cold, black folks get pneumonia," Pressley said. "Black people have been integral to the evolution of Boston for 350 years, and yet many of us are incessantly traumatized by violence, poverty and incarceration."
Boston resident Jayne Simon said she was eager to attend the town hall event on economic justice. She believes Pressley's election and the visit from the Congressional Black Caucus signifies Boston's black community is being advocated for in Washington.
"Where we can be represented and not only that, but that we'll be able to get the money that we need for our children, a just salary, decent housing," Simon said.
Another attendee, Ayanna Warfield, a Boston resident, asked the group how black artists can be better supported by government and development leaders.
"What can change in the direction of this city and this country, to make sure that these minds continue to grow with black people in this city?" Warfield asked.
Pressley responded by saying live-work spaces for artists should be a housing priority in Boston.
"In the same way we're saying, 'Without black business, there is no economy,' we have to say the same thing about black creatives and black artists," Pressley said. "There is no economy without your contributions."
This segment aired on January 12, 2020.