Born in Albany, Georgia in 1946, His family later moved to Chicago, where Rush attended Marshall High School. After serving in the U.S. Army, He attended Roosevelt University, where he graduated with honors. In 1994, Rush received his masters degree in political science, and then four years later, received a second masters in theological studies from McCormick Seminary. He has since become an ordained Baptist minister.
Active in the Civil Rights Movement, Rush was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and was a co-founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party in 1968. As such, he operated the Panthers' Free Breakfast for Children program. Rush also helped develop the nation's first mass sickle cell anemia testing program which eventually helped force America's health care providers to recognize the impact of the disease on the black community and to develop national research.
The Democratic leader was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992, to serve the First Congressional District of Illinois. He is presently serving his fifth term in the 107th Congress.