Annissa Essaibi George serves as a City Councilor at Large for the City of Boston, using her years of experience teaching in her role as the Chair of both the Committee on Education and the Committee on Homelessness and Mental Health. She’s also been running Stitch House, a shop in Dorchester selling crafting supplies and hosting handcraft lessons, since 2007. And, she has four kids and somehow makes it to almost all their sports games.
The wildest part about George’s story is that she kept all this organized in just a paper calendar before being forced to migrate to Google calendar when she took office. According to George, that was the toughest part of the transition. We managed to score a few minutes of the Councilor’s precious time to chat with her about her work, her side hustle and how she stays sane.
Exhale: What inspired you to run for city council?
Annissa Essaibi George:I have always been interested in Boston politics, since I was very young. I grew up in the city, and, when I was in high school, I was really involved in student government. I remember talking to my dad in my teenage years about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m Arabic, so I was just Annissa Essaibi. He said, “With your name, you’ll never run for anything in this country.” He just didn’t see a political future for me. I often say I ran for office for lots of different reasons. Most of them were to impact change in a big way, but part of it was to prove my father wrong.
As I got older and began my teaching career, ran my small business and raised my family, I realized that in government, in general, but particularly in Boston, there wasn’t a voice or a perspective like mine. My experience operating a business in the city is one lens. Raising a family, being a BPS parent is another lens. But, I think the reason I was elected to this body was because I was a teacher. That classroom experience is probably the most valuable one that I bring to this work every day.
What are some challenges you’ve experienced in your career?
The way that women govern is very different than men. It’s a very different approach. It’s more collaborative. Not that my male counterparts aren’t, but there tends to be a very different style. I have a slightly different sense of urgency and a desire to cut to the chase and get to the work.
I’d also say as a parent that there are some challenges. I have four kids at home, and they have their own very demanding schedule with schoolwork, athletics, friends, carving out time to spend with the family. I had my children before I was in office. Even when I was campaigning before I won my seat, I was very clear that my boys come first. Their game times, their school shows, parent open house, whatever it is, those are the priorities in my schedule, and I work around it.
What issues are you hoping to tackle if you’re re-elected?
I’m a former high school teacher, and I’m a BPS parent, so education has really become important to my work. I also spend a great amount of time focusing on supporting small businesses. We have 40,000 small businesses in Boston, and it’s important for me to be able to support them. Especially women owned businesses — to not just help them with business, but also to make sure that they have the ability to network with one another and learn from one another, to find support with each other even if they’re not similar business types. Being in business can often be very lonely. The struggle of having a successful business can be very difficult.
What inspired you to launch Stitch House and how do you balance that with your council work?
I’ve been a crafter since I was very young. I started sewing when I was six. Handcrafts have always been an important part of my life. My sewing machine came with me to college. I made my prom dress; I made my wedding dress. The concept evolved probably over a few glasses of wine and turned into some serious business planning sessions with the support of my friends.
One thing I’ve learned to do is delegate. You have to lose a little bit of that control, but to see the success that my employees and my staff have had with taking on some leadership roles has been really cool to watch.
What advice would you give to women considering running for office?
Do it. You certainly need the support of those you are closest to. There are sacrifices that the candidate makes, and there are sacrifices that those closest to the candidate make, and you have to make sure that everybody’s on board with you. There are difficult days. The work that we do here on the City Council can mean the difference between being securely housed in the City of Boston and being homeless.