The last of Ayanna Pressley’s hair fell out in the middle of December, on the day before the Massachusetts Congresswoman and the rest of the House voted on President Trump’s articles of impeachment. Losing her crown of Senegalese twists — the hairstyle that Pressley, 46, had been wearing as her signature style since winning the 7th Congressional District seat two years ago — was traumatic for several reasons. The day her hair finished falling out, due to an alopecia diagnosis she’d gotten just weeks before, was also the anniversary of her mother’s death. “I was missing her. I was mourning my hair. I was mourning the state of our democracy,” Pressley told The Root in her official January revelation. “I was mourning my mentor, Chairman Elijah Cummings,” who had recently passed away.
The world has only become more tragic and tumultuous since then, but Pressley, who is running unopposed for re-election in November, has not slowed down. She has emerged boldly, in her baldness, to become more than an aesthetic icon for both black women and for the new progressive wave of Democratic political power. More than a year ago, Pressley introduced the People’s Justice Guarantee, a resolution laying out many of the principles now being talked about in city halls across the country in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests: decriminalizing nonviolent offenses, shifting money to community-led public-health and safety initiatives rather than punitive policing. And since the uprising, Pressley has put forth a series of bills and resolutions calling for reforms to policing, criminal justice, transit, and other areas where under-served communities are being discriminated against. “You believe black lives matter? So legislate like it. Invest like it,” she tells Rolling Stone. “This is the moment. This is the reckoning. I don’t see this waning. I really don’t.”
I sat down with Pressley earlier this week to speak about her initiatives, about her personal feelings in this moment of reckoning, and about how her revelation of alopecia has affected her and those she serves.
This is the latest installment of Rolling Stone’s “RS Interview: Special Edition” video series, which features in-depth conversations with notable figures in music, entertainment, and politics. Episodes premiere every Thursday afternoon on Rolling Stone’s YouTube channel.