'You Can't Be It if You Don't See It': Ayanna Pressley Urges Representation in the Arts

By 
Candace McDuffie
January 21, 2020
Ayanna Pressley at the Berklee City Music Unsung Heroes Ceremony
Ayanna Pressley at the Berklee City Music Unsung Heroes Ceremony
Image by Dave Green
Image by Dave Green

The annual Berklee City Music Unsung Heroes Ceremony celebrates the contributions of local artists, teachers, and mentors. This year’s event, held last weekend at Berklee, honored U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, local chef and entrepreneur Gerardo Cammarano, and Krystal Prime Banfield, vice president of Education Outreach and Social Entrepreneurship at Berklee. 

"My work as a servant leader is to pave the way so all the folks who are here in purpose to do what they need to do have no obstruction," Banfield said. "I believe in raising that bar for every person, for every student, for every teacher, and for all of their families, because it really is our responsibility to take care of each other." As the first woman of color to serve as a Berklee vice president, the importance of Banfield’s role was not lost on those in the room.

“Like Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta, we must stand up, speak up, forge on, and transform our nation from the inside out with art and storytelling and from the outside in with our policy."

—Ayanna Pressley

Powerful words from Pressley, the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, cemented the impact of her and Banfield's achievements. She not only champions inclusion in politics, but knows it is crucial in all aspects of society. "Let me tell you where else representation matters: in media and in the arts. As the saying goes, you can't be it if you don't see it," Pressley said. 

"For far too long, we have not seen people who share our hair or our heritage reflected on screens and in magazines and in museums,” Pressley added. “Like Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta, we must stand up, speak up, forge on, and transform our nation from the inside out with art and storytelling and from the outside in with our policy." 

The Berklee City Music High School Academy Advanced Ensemble and an all-star band made up of students and alumni from the program performed covers of classic songs such as Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman,” and newer songs including a Beyoncé medley featuring songs including "Diva," "Flawless," and "Me, Myself and I.” After Pressley received a standing ovation for her fervor and honesty, Danny Rivera, a Berklee City Music alumnus who wrote the song “We’re on Our Way Up” in Pressley’s honor last year, performed the classic spiritual "Wade in the Water." 

Student awardees, high-schoolers selected from the ArtsLink partnership with Berklee, were chosen based on their dedication to the program. This year’s student awardees included Anthony DiGiovanni, Romero Mehta, Helpy Castano, Ezekiel Freeman-Fanfan, Laura Lopez-Finet, Edea Neal, and Melina Laganas. 

Watch the music video for Danny Rivera's "We're on Our Way Up":