Cori Bush is a Democratic Missouri congresswoman and activist, who protested for 400 days in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of Michael Brown Jr.
Who Is Cori Bush?
Born and raised in St. Louis, U.S. Representative Cori Bush became the first Black woman and first nurse to represent Missouri, as well as the first woman to represent her district. The single mother of two is a Black Lives Matter activist, who played an active role in the Ferguson uprising following the 2014 killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. by a white police officer. Brown has candidly discussed experiencing homelessness, as well as surviving sexual assault, and various forms of violence, over the course of her life.
Early Life and Education
Born on July 21, 1976, in St. Louis, Bush is the daughter of Errol Bush, an alderman and former mayor of Northwoods, Missouri, and Barbara, a computer analyst. Also raised in St. Louis, she graduated from Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School and studied at Harris-Stowe State University before earning a nursing degree from the Lutheran School of Nursing in 2008.
Family, Early Career, and Homelessness
In 2001, when Bush was in her mid-20s, she worked for a childcare company but quit after she became pregnant with her first son, Zion. Born at five months and weighing just over one pound, Zion spent the first four months of his life in a hospital. By the time Bush was able to bring him home, she was pregnant with her second son, Angel.
Bush eventually returned to her childcare job, but unable to pay the rent, she, her then-husband and two small children either slept in their car, stayed with friends or in a hotel for about four months. According to The Washington Post, she’d stay late at work so she could wash her hair in the bathroom sink after everyone left until one day, her boss found the family a place to live and also furnished the home.
After her marriage ended, she became a single mother, and, when her young children were more grown, she began nursing school in 2005. Upon graduating in 2008, she worked as a registered nurse at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital. In 2011, she started her own church, the Kingdom Embassy International Church in St. Louis, which shuttered three years later. Bush returned to nursing in 2013, taking on the role of nursing supervisor at Hopewell Health Centers, Inc. in St. Louis.
‘Ferguson Frontline’ and Activism
After 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. was shot and killed by a White police officer in nearby Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, Bush spent 400 days protesting for justice, leading the “Ferguson Frontline” as a nurse and pastor. “I’m like, ‘I’m a nurse, so I could be a medic. I’m clergy so I can pray with people,’” she explained to The Washington Post in December 2020.
While marching for justice, Bush says she became the victim of police brutality, later describing being “stomped” and “kicked like a rag doll” by six to eight police officers while trying to help a woman who appeared to be having a heart attack. “I didn’t set out to become an activist. That wasn’t even a thing back then,” Bush told ABC News in December 2020. “I was watching my community in rage. I was watching my community just look a way and feel a way that I was unfamiliar with.”
She later continued her activism as a co-founder of The Truth Telling Project and as a leader of the protest group #ExpectUS.
Urged by fellow activists to run for political office, Bush reluctantly entered the 2016 Senate race, hoping to unseat incumbent Republican Roy Blunt, but finished a distant second in the Democratic primary. Two years later, she ran against incumbent Lacy Clay, but lost the 2018 contest as well, receiving only 13 percent of the primary vote. Clay had represented the district since 2001, succeeding his father, Bill, who was first elected in 1968.
Running for Congress again in 2020, Bush defeated Clay in the primary this time, and, after winning her district by 60 percentage points, was sworn in at the United States Capitol on January 3, 2021. (Her primary campaign was also featured in the 2019 documentary, Knock Down the House.) On the first day of her two-week freshman Congress orientation, Bush wore a mask with Breonna Taylor’s name written on it, later recounting how some of her fellow members of Congress, thought that was her name.
Following her election, Bush was appointed to the House Judiciary Committee, as well as to the Congressional Progressive Caucus as the deputy whip. Hours after rioters storms the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, she introduced a resolution to remove every congressional Republican who supported overturning President-elect Joe Biden’s 2020 United States presidential election. Bush also called for Donald Trump’s removal from office.
Not long after her 2016 Senate primary loss, Bush says she survived a sexual assault. She recalled going to meet a man to see an apartment that was available to rent, and upon arrival, he violently raped her. As Bush shared with Vice two years later, she went to the hospital right after it happened, and while there, she identified the man to police. He was arrested but released after he claimed that it was a consensual, albeit rough, sexual encounter.
His prosecution was delayed for four months, and she had to take a leave from her nursing job due to the trauma. After four attempts to obtain a restraining order in court, her alleged attacker evaded being served the papers. A circuit attorney eventually told her that though her rape kit showed evidence of rape, it wasn’t enough to prosecute.
“I just lost it one day in court because I was just so frustrated that I was still going through this and nothing was happening,” she said.