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Sunday, May 16, 2021

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Marcus Bush (’10) Marcus Bush (’10)
 


Breaking Through Barriers

SDSU alumnus Marcus Bush sees an opportunity to inspire the next generation as National City’s first Afro-Latinx, LGBTQIA+ and millennial elected official.
By Aaron Burgin
 

“Representation is power, and it’s important to have diversity and a government reflective of our society’s diversity.”

More than two months have passed since voters elected Marcus Bush (’10) to the National City City Council, making the San Diego State University alumnus the city’s first Afro-Latinx, LGBTQIA+ and millennial elected official.

Bush, who double-majored in public administration and Spanish, said the magnitude of the accomplishment and his new role haven’t quite set in. 

“It’s still really surreal,” said Bush, sworn into office during a Dec. 15 ceremony on Zoom. “Every now and then, someone will call me … and address me as ‘councilman,’ and I’ll laugh at that. It’s crazy and surreal when you have a goal and a dream and then it’s achieved, it’s like ‘Wow, now what do I do?’”

But make no mistake, the 32-year-old graduate of the School of Public Affairs in the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts said he is ready for the challenges of public office — challenges for which SDSU helped him to prepare.

“I’m excited,” said Bush, a project manager for the nonprofit MAAC Project, which specializes in affordable housing. “I’m ready to hit the ground running. I think I’ve prepared for this with years of community advocacy and activism and government experience. There are going to be a lot of challenges, especially with the pandemic, and it’s going to be a learning process.” 

Bush’s path to SDSU went through the highly successful Compact for Success and Compact Scholars programs in the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity. The National City native was an inaugural member of the first group of students in Compact for Success, which begins in middle school and guarantees SDSU admission for students of the Sweetwater Union High School District if they meet GPA, test score and subject requirements. 

“They had this saying in the program that college starts at Granger (Junior High School),” said Bush, who received his master’s degree in real estate development from Portland State University. “Being prepared for the rigors of college, making sure I kept my grades up, knowing what test scores I needed — all of that came from the Compact Scholars program, which helped set us up for success.”

Compact Scholars director Janet Abbott said Bush’s outlook on life made him a standout in the program, which supports Compact for Success grads during their time at SDSU. She believes his SDSU experience and education will serve him well as an elected official.

“Marcus has always stood out as a remarkable individual because of his enthusiasm, positivity, and willingness to support his community,” Abbott said. “I am thrilled to see Marcus continue to thrive in his trajectory of service to others now as a leader serving on the city council for National City. Marcus is one of those rare individuals who steadily sees the challenges around him not necessarily as obstacles to overcome, but instead as an invitation to engage with others to work in community together to achieve desired outcomes.”

While Bush was starting down his path to SDSU, he was also developing a love for politics.

As a high school junior he listened to then-Illinois state Senator Barack Obama’s keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2004, which inspired him to later volunteer for Obama’s presidential campaign and to get involved with local political efforts, including the 2010 council campaign of Mona Rios, now in her third term. 

“That first spark in 2004, I remember sitting down and watching (Obama’s speech) with my mom and I was blown away,” Bush said. “The next big thing was being involved in 2007 and 2008 with Obama’s campaign and, at the same time volunteering for local campaigns. It was Mona who really inspired me to get civically engaged and pushed me to get on boards and commissions and get involved with the city.”

Flash forward a decade, and Bush was one of two winners in the 2020 City Council race in which two incumbents were voted out of office on the five-member council. 

Rios was thrilled to see her protege achieve his goals. 

“I am honored that Marcus includes me among others as an inspiration; but I always viewed our successful mentorships as a two-way experience where both of us benefitted,” Rios said. “If anything, I am inspired by him and his willingness to give his time and work, day-in and day-out; to give our community a voice.”

Bush said that he sees his heritage, sexual identity and relative youth as key pieces of his identity, and said he understands the significance of his election to those groups.

“Obviously it’s an honor to be a voice for those groups,” Bush said. “Being a voice isn’t necessarily saying ‘I speak for all of you’ when no one, I believe, has that authority. I think I can be a voice representative of those groups. Representation is power, and it’s important to have diversity and a government reflective of our society’s diversity.”

Bush, who said he is committed to serving National City for at least one term, said he understands that with that responsibility also comes an opportunity to inspire the next generation.

“Part of that power is being able to inspire, especially in particular being able to inspire the youth,” said Bush, who has a 10-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son. “I’ve visited my kids’ school and when they see me and realize I am a councilmember, they ask me 10,000 questions. I love that because they are curious, and I have inspired them."

That “next generation” also includes SDSU students who have aspirations to follow in his and other politicians’ footsteps. For those students, Bush offered some practical advice: become involved in the community both from a policy and a political standpoint, such as volunteering for campaigns or serving on boards and commissions. 

But he said the most important step was to figure out the “why.”

“Are you doing it for the position or the power, are you doing it for people and purpose?” Bush said. “If your rationale is to mostly benefit you — and there’s not a whole justification for the people you’re going to serve, especially helping those the most in need in our society — then you probably shouldn’t do it. Hopefully you’re in it for the right reasons.”