Episode 211: Honoring Juneteenth | Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Dr. Ibram X Kendi Talk Racial Inequity

In this episode, Boston Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi join former Boston Mayor Kim Janey for a powerful conversation on racial equity and economic disparities. They discuss the intersection of racist ideologies with economic factors and the importance of anti-racist principles in promoting economic equity. Congresswoman Pressley shares insights on the challenges faced by individuals in positions of leadership and the importance of self-care in the midst of advocating for change.

Ayanna Pressley's Insights:

  • Congresswoman Pressley emphasizes the importance of recognizing the interconnectedness of racial justice and economic equity.
  • She highlights the need for policies like reparations, baby bonds, and canceling student debt to address racial economic disparities.
  • Pressley shares her experience of navigating an emboldened white supremacy and the importance of harm mitigation in her work.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi's Perspective:

  • Dr. Kendi discusses the historical intersection of racism and capitalism, emphasizing the need for anti-racist research and policies.
  • He stresses the role of institutions, particularly universities, in promoting anti-racist principles and addressing racial disparities.
  • Dr. Kendi underscores the importance of public scholarship that impacts the lives of the public and challenges racist ideologies.

Kim Janey's Contribution:

  • Former Mayor Kim Janey introduces the concept of a "Joy Agenda" as a policy strategy to build relationships and foster joy in communities.
  • Janey highlights the need for intentional spaces that prioritize healing for individuals working in social justice and advocacy roles.
  • She encourages self-care practices and emphasizes the importance of giving oneself permission to prioritize well-being amidst challenging work environments.


The episode delves into the complexities of racial equity, economic justice, and self-care in the realm of social activism and policy-making. Listeners are encouraged to reflect on the interconnectedness of racial justice and economic equity and consider the importance of self-care in sustaining impactful advocacy work.

Carol Jenkins: 

The path to racial equity is seldom linear, says Boston Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Hello and thanks so much for joining us here at the Invisible Americans podcast. I'm Carol Jenkins. The Invisible America's podcast is a nonprofit communications project to end U.S. child poverty. As we release this podcast, the country is in the midst of celebrating Juneteenth, June 19th, the day in 1865 that slaves in Texas were informed that they were free, even though President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier. 

Here at the Invisible Americans podcast, we are marking the day with a presentation from Economic Mobility Pathways, or EMPath, the 200-year-old anti-poverty organization based in Boston. Former Boston mayor Kim Janey is its president and CEO. In March of 2024, EMPath held a conference on economic inequality called Disrupting Poverty, Empath has given us permission to post three of its compelling sessions. 

This one about racial equity with U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman elected to Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Become an Antiracist and director of Boston University's Center for Antiracist Research. Our thanks to Mayor Janey, who conducts this conversation, and EMPath for this terrific partnership.

Kim Janey: 

I am so glad that everyone is having a great time and learning together. And I am thrilled for this keynote discussion. We have with us today Dr. Ibram X. Kendi and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. I will read brief, brief bios and invite them to the stage together once I've completed reading the bios. And I'll start with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. He is a National Book Award winning author of 16 books for adults and children, including 10 New York Times bestsellers, five of which were number one New York Times bestsellers. 

Dr. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in Humanities at Boston University and the director of the BU Center for Anti-Racist Research. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News racial justice contributor. Dr. Kendi is the author of Stamped from the Beginning, the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, making him the youngest author to win that award. He also authored the international bestseller, How to Be an Anti-Racist, which was described in the New York Times as the most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western mind. Dr. Kendi's other bestsellers include How to Raise an Anti-Racist and an Anti-Racist Baby, illustrated by Ashley Lukasiewski. And I apologize if I have done her last name an injustice. 

In 2020, Time Magazine named Dr. Kendi one of the 100 most influential people in the entire world. And in 2021, he was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship, which is popularly known as the Genius Grant. Please give a warm round of applause for Dr. Kendi. And I will share this tidbit. I'm not sure if you recall, but in 2021, I did a fireside chat at your center with Dr. Lee Pelton, who opened us up this morning. So thank you for that. And Dr. Kendi is originally from New York. I'm originally from Boston. And I'm told that there's this rivalry between Boston and New York, but as the former mayor of Boston, you are an adopted son of our city. 

So thank you so much for being here. And now, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is an activist, a legislator, a survivor, and the first woman of color to be elected to Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Throughout her career, Congresswoman Pressley has fought to ensure that those closest to the pain are closest to the power, driving and informing policymaking. In Congress, she has been a champion for justice and healing, reproductive justice, justice for immigrants, consumer justice, justice for seniors, justice for workers, justice for survivors of sexual violence, justice for formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, and healing for those who have experienced trauma. 

She has also turned her experience living with alopecia into action, becoming a leading voice fighting to raise awareness and support for the alopecia community across the nation. Congresswoman Presley currently serves on the House Committee of Financial Services. Prior to being elected to Congress, she served on the Boston City Council for eight years and was the very first woman of color elected to the Boston City Council in its 100-year history. And just a story about my Congresswoman. So in case you didn't know, this is my Congresswoman that I get to vote for. who I had the honor of serving with on the Boston City Council. 

So I saw her leadership up close and personal, and she has been a fierce advocate, not only for all of those justice-impacted communities that we talked about, but a fierce advocate for women and girls. And so much of the work that we are doing is about how women and girls are doing in our nation. There's the African proverb that says, if you help a woman, you are helping an entire nation. And that is what Ayanna Pressley is about. She's about nation building. And I am so pleased to have Dr. Kendi with us today and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley. Please give them a, get on your feet and give them a warm round of applause. We're just going to have a conversation. I'm not going to have to do a lot because I'm sitting on the stage with two superstars. 

We do have some questions, and we hope to have a little time at the end to open it up, but we'll see how the conversation goes. Is that okay with everyone? Wonderful. Now, I'll start us off with questions for both of you, and either of you can jump in. I'm going to start with this question. And we had a slide up here, yes, Monday I think it was, that said it's not about perfection, it's about progress. I want to hear from each of you, in what ways do you see progress being made in the fight against racism, and what challenges still remain? What are the strategies that you believe are most effective in dismantling systemic racism? And in particular, it's the way that economic disparities just persist. Why don't we start with you, Dr. Kendi? It's your house. Well, first, thank you for having us.

Ibram X. Kendi: 

And I'm just really honored to be on this stage with each of you, of course, trailblazers, history makers, and people who I, of course, deeply admired and been inspired by, and I would actually answer your question first by even lifting up each of you. And certainly it is the case that sometimes we think when someone becomes the first that they are the everything, but there are other times in which people become the first and they use their new position of power to advocate for the rest of us. In many ways, we've had so many people across history who have done that, and certainly each of you, you know, have done that. 

And that's another reason why I'm honored to be in conversation. I just want to offer one tidbit about this. One strategy I think it's critically important for us to utilize is to recognize that progress actually is happening on two levels. When most people think about progress and even the sort of march of history, it certainly is the case that we have been able to, and when I see that we, those of us who are interested in deconstructing racism, those of us who are interested and serious about creating more equity and justice for all, we have at every generation had successes. We've been able to make forms of progress that our ancestors in certain cases did not even believe was possible. 

But we've also been told this notion that things are consistently and constantly getting better. And what I've tried to show in my work is that it's important for us to recognize what I call the progression of racism, or the way in which racist policies and ideas have become more sophisticated over time. Because if we think that when we eliminate chattel slavery, that chattel, that slavery will not be reborn in another way, Right. In a more sophisticated way. Right. We're not even going to play defense as we're playing offense. Right. In terms of offense and spreading our freedom. So I just want to offer that little tidbit that we're in a moment right now in which those who are seeking to conserve racism or have created a new and sophisticated form of conservation. And we're only now trying to figure out how to maneuver and challenge it. And this is representative of the long arc of American history and of modern history.

Kim Janey: 

Thank you. Thank you for that. And Congresswoman Pressley, what ways have we made progress and what challenges remain? What would you say to that?

Ayanna Pressley: 

Sure. I do want to just say how incredibly full circle it is to be here. I attended Boston University, was honored several years ago with an honorary doctorate. I came to Boston in 1992, originally from Chicago. And this is the city and this is the institution where I really crystallized my purpose, refined my skills, realized that the work that I wanted to do certainly went beyond this campus. And the city changed the trajectory of my life. I was president of my college. I was a student senator for my campus. So I held many, was here in many meetings at the student union. So it's very full circle to be here. It's always good to share a stage with Dr. Kendi. 

One of the things that I appreciate about you Although, in my opinion, you are often the smartest person in the room. But that as much as you are a truth teller, what I see you model are not call outs, but call ins. And I think that is very important in terms of growing the movement and the work of anti-racism. And President Janey, I've had the honor of calling you President, Mayor, Counselor, Colleague, Education, Equity, Advocate, but the title that I hold most dear is that I get to call you Sister and Friend. And it is so appropriate that you are at the helm of this incredible organization because you are one of the most deeply empathetic people I know. 

And so as we close out Women's History Month, I do want to acknowledge the soil with which you're rooted, and I want to acknowledge your dear mother, Phyllis Janey. So if we could just salute this incredible woman. If you had never met her mother, you have met her in the way in which Kim shows up every single day. Okay, so to answer your question, I don't know how to be anybody else but myself, so I just want to tell the truth of how I see this question. The hands of progress are being rolled back in every single way. When you have books being banned, an attack on our intellectual freedoms, the affirmation of a multiracial and LGBTQ and diverse representation, I mean, stories are everything. 

So, with book bans and assaults on our intellectual freedom, on our stories and our lived experiences and our different family models, in Washington there is an active defunding of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The attacks on bodily autonomy that we see that are coordinated in state legislatures all the way up to our Supreme Court. which have been enlisted as co-conspirators and accomplices in attacks on our bodily autonomy. Those very efforts are rooted in white supremacy, in medical apartheid, and I could go on. Attacks to voting rights. But what I will say calms me, Coretta Scott King, when she said that freedom is earned in every generation, that calms me because it's a reminder that the path to justice is non-linear. 

And we are actively in the algorithm. History has already proven to us that progress is not an inevitability. It does not exist. Those gains do not exist in perpetuity. You need only look at the gains of reconstruction of black Americans that were then undone by Jim Crow to understand that. So we find ourselves in a moment of, and again, I have to be frank, of an emboldened white supremacy, of a white lash, of a rollback, an undermining, a dismantling. And I do believe that is because of the growing power, and I'll look at Latasha, of this new majority. But again, we have been here before. 

And then in terms of what are the best strategies, movements, You know, I just learned that early on by my mother's righteous role modeling, the most effective, sustainable, transformable way, transformative way to effectuate change is through movements. History is also showing us that. But I think we need to dig deep because right now boycotts are short lived. Faith is shallow and our stamina is fleeting. And so we need the stamina of these movements. And then certainly lawmaking. Policy is my love language. That's not just a t-shirt, though I do sell it. I do. 

But the reason why policy is my love language is because every inequity, every disparity, every injustice is one that was codified in a budget, usually a scarcity budget, a discriminatory budget. or codified in law. These things didn't just happen organically in the ether. So I think the best strategies are those that are centered in movement building and truth-telling, because of course we can't do the work of anti-racism if we're not confronting the underbelly. And then finally, in lawmaking.

Kim Janey: 

Thank you for that. Now, you mentioned strategies this morning. We had a great conversation that kind of talked about how we got here. We continued it this afternoon. It's not by accident. It is by these policies and budgets that have been codified. But all is not lost. Like, we are here because we want to solve these big, tough problems together. And so what strategies, what additional strategies, whether policy or outside of policy, and I'm going to start with you, Congresswoman, do we need if we want to see some sort of economic equity when it comes to our overall economy? And how do we dismantle these systems or disrupt these systems in a way that truly will lift people who have been put on the margins. I'm going to start with you and then we'll go to you, Dr. Kendi, and then I'll have some additional questions.

Ayanna Pressley: 

You know, first, I think it's important that everyone continue to call the question. Last night I was at a part of a conversation and we were talking about the recent survey or report that was released about the brain drain that we're experiencing and the exodus of black women and representatives of the LGBTQ community leaving the city. And it was because they are seeking a community and a sense of belonging that they struggle to find here in the city. And I certainly have received a fair amount of inquiries about that report. 

And it reminds me of our time together on the council, where whenever there would be a community-based violence, the media would only call the black councillors and say, what are you going to do? as if it is not everyone's problem, you know, and that gun violence is a public health crisis. And so when you have a $10 trillion racial wealth gap, that is not just the problem of the most marginalized and economically oppressed and depressed. A $10 trillion racial wealth gap is a problem for everyone. And so public, private, elected, you know, artists, culture, everyone should give a damn about that. And so I think it's important that we are calling the question. I think the racial wealth gap is a grave injustice. And again, it is something that has happened over time. 

And so there's not any one policy that can undo centuries of harm. We're going to have to really be multifaceted and multipronged in our approach. So some of the policies, I'll lift up, I'll just name them for now, we can expound upon them, but I want to begin with reparations, which at the root of it is to repair. And so, again, we need, you know, truth-telling. We need reparations, policies like my legislation, baby bonds. We need to continue to do the work of canceling student debt. Many of you know I've been the lead negotiator on that, representing the House, working closely with Senators Warren and Schumer, respectively. 

That is a racial justice issue. When black Americans have been locked out of every major federal relief program from the Homestead Act to the GI Bill, targeted by redlining, and I could go on, that means black students will borrow and default, Latino students as well, at higher rates. So we have to cancel student debt. pass legislation like baby bonds and we need a reparation. So I'll start there and there's so much more that I'll offer later in the housing space in particular because I do serve on the Financial Services Committee and housing is under that and certainly that is really critical to better health outcomes and to economic and social mobility and to addressing this persistent racial wealth gap.

Ibram X. Kendi: 

I'll just mention strategies from a narrative standpoint, and I think it's not just the case that there are tens of millions of people in this country who are impoverished, who are disproportionately black and native, but it's also the case that most people are taught that they are impoverished because of their own actions.

Ayanna Pressley: 

That's right.

Ibram X. Kendi: 

Even black people believe that impoverished black people are impoverished due to their own irresponsibility. And I mention that because part of the reason why, like once I think in Congresswoman Presley's answer, there was nothing about we need to civilize black people or poor people. Right, because I think, and so we need to also, as we're pushing these equitable policies, to also make the case for them by stating that there's nothing wrong with poor people, that there's nothing wrong with black people, and there's everything wrong with policies and policy violence, to use Congresswoman Prentzley's sort of term. 

And I think I don't want us to sort of understate the importance of that. Because think about it, if you truly believe that poor people are lazier than wealthier people, even though poor people work more hours, work harder jobs, have to drive or take the bus longer, have a tougher sort of job overall, working people do, then knowing and seeing all these inequities are going to be a problem for It's going to make sense to you. If you think that black people don't know how to save, we don't make good business decisions, we like to spend money on sneakers as opposed to stocks, then the racial wealth gap is going to make sense to you, right? 

You're going to then donate money to programs that increase our financial literacy, thinking that we're financially illiterate. And that's going to address the structural problem. Now, certainly, we all could become more financially illiterate, right? Those programs help individuals. They don't help communities, and they certainly don't reduce the racial wealth gap. And so I just want us to also understand the narrative war that we're also in the midst of and for us to remember that there's nothing wrong with the people.

Kim Janey: 

Amen. Amen. Amen. Very important to point that out. And part of what we are trying to do in this year's conference is really lift up the lived expertise of folks who are working in this sector and have them share what it means to have real strategies for a path forward, that the answers lie within us. that we're not looking for some savior to come save the day, that we can do this work. And something that you said reminded me of what my mother has always said, and thank you for lifting up my mom. My mother has always said the hardest job she has ever had was being poor. How hard it was. 

And whether you had a low-paying job and still needed assistance, running around to the DTA office and then over here to get your food stamps, and then you've got to fill out this form, and then we've got a whole other process over here. There's nothing aligned, nothing in sync, and it's really humiliating. There's a stigma there, and so lifting up that there is, it's not the people, it's the system that is the problem. 

Teresa Perry has a quote, and I know I'm going to mess it up. She's from the South, and we were working together on education policy, and she would always say, if the corn don't grow, they don't blame the farmer. They don't blame the corn, you know. And so why are we doing the same? We're not blaming the corn. We know that there's a whole ecosystem here that has to work in order for that corn to flourish. Anyway, thank you for pointing. Well, that's just racism. Exactly.

Ayanna Pressley: 

That's just racism. And I would just say that it's global. So I'll offer an example in terms of our foreign policy. our hearts are devastated and broken by the images that we see in Ukraine. But perhaps there's not equitable outrage for what is happening in Haiti. And why is that? Because I think that people, culturally, you're not even aware of it. So it's not from a place of malice. It is just so systemic and so pervasive that we have conflated in our minds that black and indigenous and brown people have descended bellies and hollowed eyes and there's violence all around and it is just what it is. 

But when you see the images that are, you know, incredibly upsetting and harrowing and gut-wrenching coming out of Ukraine, for many that is more disruptive because it's something you're not used to seeing and so you just immediately reject it. When we have to have an equitable outrage and compassion with that understanding that we are one human family and as Mamie Till so often would say, what happens to one of us had better be the business of all of us. because truly our freedoms and our destinies are tied. 

So I just lift that as one example in our globalism, in how racism shows up. And again, it's not all from a place of malice. Doris Buncey, may she rest in peace and power, who was the first public housing tenant to rise to the ranks to be the Secretary of Housing here in our Commonwealth, used to say that being poor is not a character flaw. And I remember when I was growing up in the residual aftermath of all of this policy violence, the war on drugs and welfare reform and redlining, thinking that my family and I were marked. Why is it that my family and those that were proxy to us were all living the same reality? And I was tempted to buy into this idea. Well, if we really do live in a meritocracy, then clearly we're just not working hard enough. So thank you both for that perspective and those quotes. It's not the people, it's the policies. And if the corn don't grow, we don't blame the farmers.

Kim Janey: 

So you lift up racism in your last response. You have done tons of work. around how to be an anti-racist and this whole concept of anti-racism. So for you, Dr. Kendi, how do economic factors intersect with racist ideologies, and how can anti-racist principles be applied to promote economic equity?

Ibram X. Kendi: 

Well, I think first and foremost, it is important for us to understand that From the beginning of the construction of racism, it intersected with the economy. Can you talk about that? Or more specifically, if you were to sort of root the origins of racism, that origins is what's called the long 15th century, or we can understand it as the 1400s. That was also the emergence of capitalism itself. What was the first major international capitalist system? Was it transatlantic trade and African people? And then why did Prince Henry, who pioneered the transatlantic trade, instruct his royal chronicler to create racist ideas that enslaved Africans should be enslaved because they're beasts, because he wanted to justify, you know, his practices that were benefiting him and Portugal financially, right? 

And so from the beginning, you had these racist policies that were being utilized to extract, to dispossess, to exploit particularly in this case, black people and ultimately peoples of color and even white people who were impoverished. And then the racist ideas then justified and rationalized that extraction, that dispossession, you know, that exploitation. to ultimately say, as we were just saying, that those people are enslaved because there's something wrong with them. Those people are impoverished because there's something wrong with them. They're working class. 

They're struggling to survive because there's something wrong with them, which then hid the policy structure that was actually causing that economic sort of harm. And then the people sometimes, even themselves, internalized that idea, and believed it, which then sapped their resistance to the policy structure, and if anything, caused them to resist against each other. And so I'm saying this all to say that you can't separate racism from capitalism. I mean, that's why more and more historians have been calling it racial capitalism. In my book, How to Be an Antiracist, I call racism and capitalism the conjoined twins. because they're interlinked historically, and even you can't separate race from class, right?

Kim Janey: 

Is that to say that if we live in a capitalist society, that we will always have racism?

Ibram X. Kendi: 

That's what it's always been.

Kim Janey: 

We haven't. So if we want to promote more anti-racist principles that lead to economic equity, what is our path? forward. That's our theme for this conference. We're about solutions. And we know we're not going to solve 400 years of oppression with a 30 minute session on this stage at BU. But we are going to make progress. We are going to make progress. We're going to go home motivated and inspired to do this work together.

Ibram X. Kendi: Well, let me just say this. Even the term capitalism and what that is, right, is heavily debated. And the reason why I say that is because some of us will say, you know what, introducing basic income, right, is an equitable thing to do. 

Others would say that's anti-capitalist. Right. And so, you know, I'm mentioning that because I think that for me, it should just always be about introducing sort of policies that have the capacity to eliminate poverty, that have the capacity to eliminate housing, you know, insecurity, that has the capacity to eliminate, you know, the racial wealth gap and all these racial economic disparities. 

And but then we have to even extend it past that, because you can't really think about racial poverty without understanding gender. you know, since women of color are disproportionately, you know, impoverished. And and so that then, of course, introduces a whole nother set of issues, because even from the beginning, racism and capitalism was intersecting with what sexism, which predated both racism and capitalism. Right. And anyway,

Kim Janey: 

So in this morning's keynote, we heard a figure. I don't remember what the figure was, but it talked about what we're missing out on in our overall economy. And the figure was in the billions. So if we had a more inclusive economy where people were not economically depressed and left out and marginalized, that all of us would benefit. How do we get people who are very invested in racial principles and policies to see their own self-interest, and I'm not talking about poor working class, I'm talking about those at the top, that all of us are better off, including those at the top, when we're all included. Is that even possible? And either of you can jump in there.

Ibram X. Kendi: Can I just say something? Yes, please. So, you know, it's ironic. One of the first people to advocate for reparations for the formerly enslaved people was a white Democrat in the 1890s. And Democrats, those were the Jim Crow desegregationists at the time. And the reason why he advocated for formerly enslaved people to receive reparations is because formerly enslaved people would receive money. And that money would go to the South. And people would have more ability to what? Buy goods and services. 

And so his business would benefit. He directly recognized that, right? You know, just as, you know, I guess to give one other Example, Heather McGee recently wrote a book called The Sum of Us, and one of the examples she had in the book that I think relates to your question is during the Great Recession, which of course was sort of came about as a result of these subprime predatory loans. Those lenders first targeted black and brown homeowners or people who were seeking to buy homes, knowing that people wouldn't care if they started defaulting on their loans, knowing that they could literally master the technique of their predation on those black and brown homeowners. 

So then once they mastered that technique and those loans on those black and brown folks, what do you think they did? They took it to everybody. And then the economy crashed. And I don't think white Americans know how often things that are harming them were first tested out on black and brown people. And they imagined that would never get to them. And it always does.

Ayanna Pressley: 

Amen. I love sharing a stage and a mic with him, and I hate it. Because I feel like I should just first, I'm always learning things, but I feel like I should just say hard cosine. But I'll do my best to contribute something there. So as I said, we have to call the question. And I think that work is not just two lawmakers, though policy is very important because the harm that has been done that has created these unequal and equitable circumstances was very precise. So we have to be prescriptive. So when people are uncomfortable about the idea of race conscious targeted policy, I have to remind them that the harm that was done was very race conscious. It was very precise and we should be just as prescriptive. 

So for me that includes everything from the reason why I do the work of student debt and came to that work was when this was the Crittenton Women's Union and I called the question of why do so many women that are struggling to get on a pathway to self-sufficiency have the same story. And that story was that they had been victimized by the deceptive business practices and predatory marketing of for-profit colleges and universities. And so many shared that story of having been victimized by those schools, not finished any sort of education, defaulting on those loans, then having a horrible credit score, and then that setting them in a downward spiral, right? So that's how I first came to the issue of student debt. I've continued that work. Because you cannot say we live in a meritocracy and education is the great equalizer when the cost of higher ed is increased by 400%. That's disingenuous, right? 

So we have to cancel student debt because everyone benefits from that. Instead of my paying the equivalency each month of another mortgage payment, if I'm instead using that money to purchase a home, to build wealth, if I'm infusing that money back into our economy, everyone benefits from that. If you pay your rent on time and now that counts towards your credit score, and you have better credit, which means you're more likely to be gainfully employed in a career that allows you to have economic freedom and to contribute to the economy, everyone benefits. If we take medical debt off of your credit reports, If we take medical debt off of your credit report, again, the same dynamic that I just talked about with student debt and if you pay your rent on time and that counting towards your credit, there is that trickle, I don't know, down, up, around effect, if you will. Policies like universal basic income, reparations, baby bonds. 

You know, I want to say during the pandemic, everyone talked about how these inequities had been glaringly exposed and further compounded. But then now, as we come out of the pandemic, people want to default to an unjust status quo. all these things that we have been pushing for as a collective, as a movement and the people who do this work during the pandemic, suddenly we found a way to, we can feed hungry children, we'll house people, we can do these things. 

And now we're defaulting to an understatus quo. During the pandemic, people said, oh wow, childcare that is accessible and affordable and quality is critical to our workforce, is critical to families, is critical to the GDP. And then all of a sudden we got on the back end on this pandemic and people have selective amnesia. And so we are still in the fight for universal child care. and for paid leave. 

And the last thing that I want to say as I talk about the waves and the algorithms of this, at the height of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, and this is why it's so important that we're prescriptive, if we don't tell institutions, if we don't tell government the solutions and what we need, they make it up, okay? And so at the height of Black Lives Matter and George Floyd, the banks made racial equity commitments to the tune of $32.5 billion. So this is at the height of everybody wearing t-shirts, they probably didn't even buy from a black vendor, people using hashtags, doing all the things, saying all of the things. 

And so I used the power of my letterhead as a lawmaker, publicly released that, and about five months ago, asked the five biggest banks, JP Morgan, Citi, Bank of America, there's one other that escapes me, but yes, two, do a comprehensive audit because I said I have not personally felt the impact in racial equity of $32.5 billion. Please show me the receipts. We have a $10 trillion racial wealth gap and our banks in particular have played a formidable role in creating that racial wealth gap. So now what are you going to do prescriptively to address it? So we asked them for a comprehensive audit. 

They responded with some 200 pages of information. To my surprise, my team, shout out to my A-team, worked very hard to analyze and disaggregate this data. I was encouraged by a lot of what I heard, but I want more. I mean, Bank of America has closed 250 branches in the Commonwealth, 39 in my district. In the city of Boston, 10% of the population are underbanked. are unbanked and 20% are underbanked. 

So again, all of this connects. So now what I'm asking, or my demands of them, is that we see more in the investment when it comes to addressing lending disparities in housing and for small business, that they reopen closed branches, that they prioritize language access, that they get more people of color in senior roles. So I just offer that as an example because maybe when people are thinking about racial justice, they're just going to lawmakers. But again, every industry, every sector has been a contributor. And so when you're talking about economic justice as a critical component to racial justice, don't leave your financial institutions and other institutions out of the equation and call the question.

Kim Janey: 

Thank you. Thank you. Earlier in our conversation, Dr. Kendi, you talked about the individual approach and how people want to blame individuals. And we know that this is about systems. And so at Empath, I'm really grateful for the work that we do to help individual families develop their voice, to become these strong advocates, to take charge, while still holding the system accountable for the policy changes that we need. One of the things that I had to contemplate as someone who was a community organizer, was doing advocacy work, was working on policy, was the effectiveness of being inside versus outside the system. 

And for each of you, you touch on the banks as an institution and what they need to do. to be part of the solution. There are universities, there are hospitals, there are all of these institutions. For you, Congresswoman, as someone who is inside the system, so to speak, as a Congresswoman, and I know a lot of folks in this room have views about what's happening in D.C. and Congress and what folks are doing or not doing, I am here to tell you about my Congresswoman. and the work that she is doing every single day for the Seventh Suffolk District. So thank you so much for your advocacy. But did you have to have this conversation with yourself around running for Boston City Council and then running for Congress? Did you have to?

Ayanna Pressley: 

You mean like an inside-outside?

Kim Janey: 

Inside-outside in terms of being effective. And then for you, Dr. Kendi, talk about role that other institutions can play. We heard Congresswoman mention the role of banks. What else needs to happen? We're a little short on time, so I want to get both of these questions out. We can start with you, and then hopefully we'll have a little more time to open up the floor. Is that okay with folks? Excellent. So we'll start with you, Dr. Kendi.

Ibram X. Kendi: 

Well, I think since we're on a college campus, we can talk about what a university can do other than sort of paying its graduate students.

Ayanna Pressley: 

Oh, OK.

Ibram X. Kendi: 

OK. I think many of the ideas that we've talked about over the course of this session, ideas demeaning poor people, demeaning people of color, were largely created by pseudo scholars and intellectuals sitting on college campuses, imagining how smart they were, you know, in some sort of ivory tower. And I think that It is critically important for these institutions of higher learning to not imagine themselves as higher than others, but actually function to uplift the economic and intellectual sort of livelihood of the world. 

Our center, we deliberately sought to name it the Center for Antiracist Research because we wanted to distinguish between anti-racist research and racist research. We wanted to push back against this idea that there is that there's something in between that or there's some sort of race neutral research. No, there's there's researchers who who imagine the basic assumption in the face of inequity and injustice is that the people are the problem. So I need to study their genetic makeup, I need to study their culture, I need to study, you know, what's wrong with them and then figure that out and then go about sort of civilizing them. That's racist research and that's dominant even to this day.

Ayanna Pressley: 

Even in social work.

Ibram X. Kendi: 

Yeah, and that's dominant, you know, on college campuses. Because you even have professors who say, well, I don't know. I need to investigate whether there is something wrong with black people. Like 600 years of history that have allowed us to disprove every single racist idea that has been put forth about black people, they still don't know. So maybe they may not know that the earth is round either. At what point are these people going to realize that when they problematize groups of people, they are the problem. Right. That's right. And I think it's important for college campuses. I think it's important for centers. I think it's important for departments. I think it's important for intellectuals to to to engage in that work. And I also think it's important for us to not write for other academics. and for our audience to be the people, to be everyday people who are facing and dealing with the very problems we're trying to solve, you know, in these disciplines. And I just think, let me stop there before I get in trouble.

Kim Janey: 

We love good trouble. If you can stay around. We love good trouble. We love good trouble.

Ibram X. Kendi: 

No, I was just going to say, and I just think, to me, it is so important because for us as academics to create public scholarship, and that is scholarship that has the capacity to impact the lives of the public, right? And if we're not doing that, I don't know what we're doing. Right.

Ayanna Pressley: 

That's it. And I can ask you this question, too, because I tell a lot of my siblings in this work who go from being, you know, proudly activists, who then come inside, as we say, to the building. And you go from throwing the rocks to catching them. You know, I know that's been the experience for many, but I actually see it as one movement. So even though there are different strategies being employed, I don't see myself as separate and apart from the progressive movement, which I consider to be the civil rights movement. 

For a long time, I wasn't comfortable with that characterization of progressive because I thought it was like for people who hug trees. I didn't think it was actually representative of me. I'm being a little coded, but the point is, maybe not. I got it immediately. But then, you know, I came to understand that the civil rights movement was simply disruptive of the status quo in the name of progress. So we are still very much in the civil rights movement. I serve with people every day who believe in eugenics. I serve with people who have called me colored. I serve with people who called my Crown Act legislation the bad hair bill. I serve with people who believe the solution to school shootings is to arm teachers. because they think that teachers should be guards instead of guides. So these are the people that I serve with every day. 

So the fact of the matter is, in this moment, while I'm doing the work of progressive change, which is the work of the civil rights movement, which we are still very much in, because Rosa didn't sit, and John crossed the bridge, and Dr. Kendi marched, and suddenly our full freedoms were realized. We know better than that, right? Like I said, I'm in the algorithm. I'm in the algorithm, and so in this moment, as much as I seek to do the work of change, sometimes the biggest thing I'm doing every day is harm mitigation. 

And that's the work for many lawmakers that doesn't get a headline, that you can't do a press release about, that no one will ever know. It's not what you made happen, it's what you stopped from happening. And that's the thing you don't know. And so that really is the chief work that I have to do in this moment of an emboldened white supremacy. And I have to say this in an attack on black leadership.

Kim Janey: 


Ayanna Pressley: 

From Tennessee legislatures.

Kim Janey: 

That's right.

Ayanna Pressley: 

To hallowed halls all over this commonwealth.

Kim Janey: 

Talk about it. Talk about it. To answer the question. I know I said that that was the last question. I have one more question. At the end of my first year on the city council, one of the things that I recognized that was super important to do, not just for myself, but for my other sisters in service, and so I hosted an event. I don't think you were able to, you were, you were, you had just won. Okay. You just won your campaign, so you didn't come. We did it at Black Market. Beautiful. And it was a day of self-care for just the women to come, women of color. What do you do? So you walk into a building every day with people who want to harm you and harm everyone who looks like you. It's not the same building, but I'm sure you encounter some of that as well. I'm in the house, so I'm going to be respectful. 

But I'm sure you encounter much of what Congresswoman Pressley also encounters. How do you take care of yourself? And advice for people in the room. A lot of the folks in the room are frontline staff. There are people who are running programs, running organizations. We know that organizations are underfunded, that our staff are overworked. What advice do you give this room of how they can re-energize? Besides coming to this wonderful conference, how else can they re-energize? You can clap for this wonderful conference. How else can people take care of themselves so that they're able to continue in the work? Continue in the work. 

One of the things I did in 2021 as mayor was we did the Joy Agenda in Boston. policy. We wanted to test this out as a policy. And it was important, not just for a strategy of reopening the city, but for me, it was a longer term strategy. We've got important work to do. around racial injustices that have been with us forever. 

And to do this work, we've got to build a foundation with each other first. We have to build this bridge while the sun is shining. Let's not wait for the storm. Let's build these relationships, get this work centered around a joy agenda. So when that hard work comes, we're going to be able to do that together. How can folks in this room take care of themselves? Congresswoman? And especially for women, because women who are caregivers, who are running their households, are taking care of their spouses, taking care of children, they take care of the folks at church, they take care of folks in their community, they take care of aging, they take care of everyone.

Ayanna Pressley: 

I keep turning over this question in my mind, since I do think all of you do the work of healing in your own unique and respective ways. Who will heal the healer? I don't have the answer, but it is something that I keep turning over, turning over, turning over. And how can I create, how can I create intentional curated spaces that heal the healer? So that is something that I continue to ruminate and meditate on. I think on the joy piece, it's just we have to give ourselves permission. And it is in those small moments. And giving ourselves permission sounds like a little thing, but it's actually the most important thing. Because when you are so embedded of the work of injustice and you are empathic and compassionate people and absorbing all that is being projected onto you. 

And it's the first thing you think of in the morning, the last thing at night. Sometimes you can feel guilty when you are surrounded by people that are deprived and struggling in so many ways that you can feel guilty and giving yourself permission to be joyful. And so I would just encourage everyone to give themselves permission to be joyful as someone who's done the work of combating, preventing, and mitigating trauma for a long time. I'll never forget at one of my city council hearings on the issue of childhood trauma, asking the psychologist, what is the chief combatant of trauma? And the psychologist said to inform joy. So it's just a reminder that we do have to be intentional in informing that joy. It's not always something in the ether that is organic in that way. So I'm going to keep thinking about who will heal the healer. Secondly, give yourself permission to be joyful and be intentional about informing that joy and be just as radical in the work of joy and healing as you are in the work of change. 

And then the last thing that I want to leave with everyone, which is probably disconnected from the question, but it's something I've been sharing recently that has deeply resonated with a lot of people. I was recently organizing an indigenous community in Minnesota to stop a pipeline there. And it was my first time being on a reservation. And the first thing that blew my mind, Dr. Kendi, is as I entered the reservation, one of the elders said to me, you were flanked by three ancestors. And I really did believe her. 

And in that vein, as I was leaving, that elder challenged me to be a better ancestor than descendant. It was sort of this, the acknowledgement that ancestors were flanking me, and my way to pay it forward is to be a better ancestor than descendant. And I do find joy in thinking about every day, am I delivering a love letter to future generations? In policy, in word, in deed, am I being a better ancestor than descendant?

Ayanna Pressley: 

Thank you for that.

Ibram X. Kendi: 

Well, this last six months has probably been some of the one of the toughest times of my both personal and professional life. You know, as I think we've talked about, they have pulled out all the stops to try to destroy us, to try to destroy our reputations, what we built, And so this has become an incredibly important question for me, and it's something I've been thinking quite a lot about. And I would just offer two points. And the first is for us to never underestimate our enemies. And the reason for that is that, I think, has been the message that wise folks have told me, particularly over the last six months, right, because if It's oftentimes when we underestimate someone or a group of people who are trying to destroy us that we feel more devastated when they show up in that way, right? But if we expect that, so to speak, from that person or those folks or that place, you know, then from at least an emotional standpoint, right, we're better able to protect ourselves. 

And so I would just offer that, and that's certainly something that I'm learning myself. And then secondly, I would encourage everyone to, of course, never under love yourself. And to me, the self-love and really appreciating yourself for the work that you're doing and really understanding for yourself the importance of the work that you're doing is critically important as we walk through the fire. As we walk through the fire of people trying to discourage us, trying to attack us, trying to undermine our work, that certainty in our love for ourselves will get us through. And also certainly to love ourselves is to love justice. And I think also the more we love ourselves, the better we're able to love the people around us, right? The better we're able to love our communities. It's almost sort of shines from us. And if there's ever been anything that these people have been trying to do to us, it has been for us to not love ourselves.

Ayanna Pressley: 


Kim Janey: 

Can you stand on your feet, please? and give our distinguished guest a round of applause.

Carol Jenkins: 

Thanks so much for joining us on the Invisible Americans podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts, but we urge you to visit our website for transcripts, show notes, research, and additional information about our guests and their work. That's www.theinvisibleamericans.com. Please follow us on social media and our new YouTube channel, and our blog posts are up on Medium as well as our website. That's www.theinvisibleamericans.com. Jeff and I will see you the next time.

Kim Janey

President & CEO of Economic Mobility Pathways

Kim Michelle Janey is the President & CEO of Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath), a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families experiencing poverty dramatically improve their economic mobility. EMPath offers a unique combination of direct services; legislative advocacy; a global learning network of human services organizations; and research for what actually works.

Prior to leading EMPath, Janey made history when she was sworn in as Boston’s first woman and first Black mayor, successfully leading the city through a multitude of unprecedented challenges, including the COVID-19 global pandemic. Janey began her tenure with a citywide agenda of recovery, reopening, and renewal to address systemic inequities exposed and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Janey re-opened Boston’s economy and its public schools by centering equity and prioritizing health and wellness. She invested millions to support small businesses, expanded protections for renters and homeowners, and launched fare-free public transit. Under Mayor Janey’s leadership, Boston experienced its safest summer in 5 years and became one of the most vaccinated big cities in America. Prior to leading her city as Mayor, she led the most diverse City Council in Boston’s history, where she authored groundbreaking legislation.

Devoting her life to public service, Janey has 30 years of experience in the non-profit sector. In her role at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, Janey championed systemic policy reforms to increase equity, excellence, access, and opportunity in Boston Public Schools. Prior to that, Janey worked as a Community Organizer, advocating for affordable, quality child care.

Janey was recently named as a 2023 Aspen Institute Ascend Fellow where she and her cohort are working to advance the prosperity and well-being of children and families all across the United States. Previously, Janey served as a Spring 2022 Resident Fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Harvard Kennedy School where she designed and led a study group entitled Racial Justice and Recovery: Leading American Cities to a More Equitable Future. She also served as an Inaugural Fellow at the Berry Institute of Politics at Salem State University and as a Menschel Senior Leadership Fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Janey serves on a number of non-profit boards and has been recognized for her years of service with numerous awards, including the ARCKBoston Global Citizenship Award, the Mass Dems Eleanor Roosevelt Award, BAAF Champion Award, Boston NAACP Difference Maker Award, the Sapphire Award, and the Jewish Community Relations Legislative Leadership Award to name a few.

A proud fourth generation Roxbury resident, Janey comes from a long line of educators, entrepreneurs, artists, and advocates. Janey was raised with values that guide her to this day: the importance of education, the power of community organizing, and the fundamental principles of equity and justice.

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley

Congresswoman (MA-07)

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) is an activist, a legislator, a survivor, and the first woman of color to be elected to Congress from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.Throughout her career, Congresswoman Pressley has fought to ensure that those closest to the pain are closest to the power - driving and informing policymaking.

As Congresswoman for Massachusetts' 7th Congressional District, she has been a champion for justice and healing: reproductive justice, justice for immigrants, consumer justice, justice for seniors, justice for workers, justice for survivors of sexual violence, justice for formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, and healing for those who have experienced trauma. She hasalso turned her experience living with alopecia into action, becoming a leading voice fighting toraise awareness and support for the alopecia community across the nation.

Congresswoman Pressley currently serves on the House Committee on Financial Services and theHouse Committee on Oversight and Accountability. Prior to being elected to Congress, she served on the Boston City Council for eight years and was the first woman of color elected to the council in its 100-year history.

Dr. Ibram X Kendi

Antiracist researcher and author

DR. IBRAM X. KENDI is a National Book Award-winning author of fifteen books for adults and children, including nine NewYork Times bestsellers—five of which were #1 New York Times bestsellers. Dr. Kendi is the Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Boston University, and the director of the BU Center for Antiracist Research. He is a contributing writer at The Atlantic and a CBS News racial justice contributor.

Dr. Kendi is the author of Stamped from theBeginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, which won the National Book Award for Nonfiction, making him the youngest author to win that award. He also authored the international bestseller, How to Be an Antiracist, which was described in the New York Times as “the most courageous book to date on the problem of race in the Western Mind.” Dr. Kendi’s other bestsellers include How to Raise an Antiracist; Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, co-edited with Keisha Blain; How to Be a(Young) Antiracist, co-authored with Nic Stone; Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, co-authored with Jason Reynolds; and Antiracist Baby, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky. In 2020, Time magazine named Dr. Kendi one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world. He was awarded a 2021 MacArthur Fellowship, popularly known as the Genius Grant.