Rushern Baker: How Howard University Shaped the Next Governor of Maryland

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images, The Washington Post

Whether being appointed the first black Supreme Court justice or playing the role of “Cookie” on FOX’s Empire, Howard alumni have done nothing but exceed common expectations and set standards for current students and students to come.  In fact, this Howard Alum is in the running to become the next Governor of Maryland.

Rushern L. Baker, III is the 7th County Executive of Prince George’s County, Maryland.  He started his political career in the Maryland House of Delegates in 1994, however, Baker’s involvement with politics started significantly before then. Growing up the son of a military family, Baker was introduced to public service at an early age. At age 16, Baker discovered his interest in politics and decided that he wanted to make a difference in the world.  Unimpressed with the elected officials in his community and with his father’s advice to “take action,” Baker made the decision to attend Howard University to study political science.

Shortly after enrolling in Howard University, Baker changed his major from political science to history as a result of his exposure to an  array of black intellectuals and thinkers.

“People like Chancellor Williams, Rayford Logan, Sterling Brown, and Michael Winston gave lectures in the history department and I got to hear all these knowledgeable people talk about the history of this country and the role that African-American’s had in shaping it from the very foundation.  It opened my eyes to what could be accomplished for the black community” said Baker.

With his newfound consciousness, Baker began his political career as a sophomore holding the office of Sophomore Class President which taught him how to build a campaign as well as the importance of distinguishing himself from other candidates.  Baker also held the office of President of College of Arts and Sciences and Chair of the Howard University Student Association (HUSA) Policy Board. However, Baker’s biggest takeaway from Howard University are the connections he has made.

“Holding these positions in student government allowed me to make a mental note of all the folks who I thought were so talented and doing great things on campus.  I looked at these people and thought to myself ‘I know I’m going to run for office one day and I want to take you with me’ and the same people who I worked with in student government became the nucleus of my first campaign running for County Executive,” said Baker.

William Marshall, a fellow Howard Alum, worked public relations on Baker’s campaign for both President of College of Arts and Sciences and P.G. County Executive.

“He’s the same guy now that he was then when it comes to the issues. What you have is a politician, who is a person not seeking office for vocation but seeking office to advocate,” said Marshall. “He has what you want in a leader, he has the larger vision, he knows who he is, he knows what he wants, and he knows who he needs to get him there,” he said.

David Byrd, a political strategist and friend of Baker’s from high school, agrees Baker’s passion for helping people has remained consistent throughout the years, as well as his eye for talent.

“Being a leader he sets the tone but he recruits people who are talented and allows them to innovate and create alternatives to come up with the best overall solution,” said Byrd.

Today, under the leadership of Rushern Baker, Prince George’s County, which is the second largest jurisdiction in Maryland, houses five out of the 10 richest African-American communities in the United States and has more Black wealth in one place than anywhere else in the country.

County Executive Baker has received many accolades for his leadership and is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the National Forum for Black Public Administrators’ National Leadership Award for Public Service and the Most Innovative Executive of the Year for Minority Business from the Maryland/Washington Minority Contractors Association.  He was also presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from his Alma mater Howard University in 2013 as well as a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2014.

For students pursuing careers in Politics, Baker has this advice: “If you want to be in public service, learn as much as you can from all your experiences because that is what is going to give you the understanding of the people you want to serve.”