There aren’t a lot of politicians like Rep. Cori Bush serving in Congress. Her life hasn’t been easy, to say the least. From poverty and homelessness, she’s overcome a wide range of experiences that put her to the test in more ways than one. After taking office in January 2021, she has consistently fought for her constituents, as well as low-income individuals and people of color all over the country. She’s one of several women receiving the 2021 Trailblazer Award from the National Black Nurses Association at this year’s 49th Annual Conference, which will take place from August 4th to 8th online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Cori Bush was born in 1976 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her father was an alderman and former mayor of a small town in St. Louis County. After graduating from Harris-Stowe State University, she started her career as a preschool teacher making minimum wage. For almost ten years, she worked her way up to become the school’s assistant administrator, but was still only making $9 an hour. She still talks about what it was like living on minimum wage. “Who speaks up for people like me? Why do I keep having to live like this?” She remembers thinking this to herself while standing outside a PayDay Loan office, looking for an advance on her next paycheck.
In 2001, she quit her job at the school after getting pregnant with her second child. She got sick soon after giving birth. That’s when she and her husband fell into debt. They were eventually evicted from their home and forced out onto the street. After several months of living out of her car with her family, she went back to school to earn a nursing degree from Lutheran School of Nursing. By 2010, she had achieved her goal of becoming an RN, which left her swimming in student debt.
Bush says she never considered going into politics until Michael Brown, an unarmed, African American teenager, was shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson, MO, which set off a wave of racial justice protests across the country. During the demonstrations, which lasted 400 days in Ferguson, Bush and her colleagues set up a counseling tent to help locals cope with their grief and frustration. As the daughter of a politician, she decided she had no choice but to go into a field that she had avoided her entire life. For the next few years, she became a leading voice in the community and a prominent member of the Black Lives Matter movement.
She first ran for state senator in 2016 but lost in the primaries. Soon after, she survived a sexual assault from her then partner, who fired a gun at her. Luckily, she wasn’t injured. She went on to become a fierce advocate for sexual assault survivors.
In 2018, she ran to represent the state’s 1st Congressional district, which includes parts of St. Louis and Ferguson. She mounted a strong campaign against an established incumbent but eventually lost the race. She ran for the same seat two years later during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus sent her to the hospital twice, but that didn’t stop her from spreading her message across the community. Thanks to her network of activists and local supporters, she won the seat, becoming the first black woman and nurse to represent Missouri in Congress.
Bush has since spent her time fighting for the issues that matter most to her and her constituents, including a national $15 minimum wage to support low-income families and individuals, tuition-free college so young people can get a degree without going into debt, and Medicare for All, which would provide health insurance to every American. Bush had to give up her employer-sponsored health coverage to run for office, forcing her to pay for her two hospital stays out of pocket. Most recently, she has been fighting to get the White House to extend the CDC’s eviction moratorium, so families and individuals affected by the pandemic don’t have to worry about being forced out onto the streets, just like Bush was back in 2001.
The NBNA is proud to honor Rep. Cori Bush for her commitment to nursing and the wellbeing of others as she continues fighting for our country’s most vulnerable. We wouldn’t expect anything less from a registered nurse.