Kristian Bush on storytelling, global activism

You may know Kristian Bush as the hat-wearing half of the Grammy-winning Sugarland. Now you can get to know him as an engaged activist.

Bush, whose band has been inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, will participate in next week's Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service, to be held June 16-18 at the Georgia World Congress Center. (For registration information and other details, see www.volunteeringandservice.org.)

“They called me to be a participant in the closing of the conference,” said Bush, also a solo artist. “They were interested in how stories are used to communicate.”

Bush, who is active with an anti-poverty organization called Global Citizen, will join an all-star roster of presenters. The speaker list includes Points of Light board chair Neil Bush, son of the organization's founder, former President George H.W. Bush; Atlanta entertainment mogul Tyler Perry; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andy Young; former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, now vice chair of her parents' Clinton Foundation; GE Foundation President Deborah Elam; Points of Light President Tracy Hoover; King Center CEO the Rev. Bernice King and numerous other civic, corporate and community luminaries.

“It is a tall order but we’ll give it a shot,” Bush, who’s not related to the presidential Bushes, said of joining the august group. “It’s a little easier to do because I have a guitar.”

He became interested in volunteerism and anti-poverty activism over time.

“I grew up in east Tennessee,” he said. “In that part of Appalachia, there is extreme poverty.”

As an adult, he would encounter poverty while traveling.

“Education is the first piece, participation is the second step and then storytelling,” he said of his role in combating the global ill. He credits his time at Emory University, where he studied creative writing, for his ability to share.

“I was in the very first graduating class of creative writing majors,” he said. “I couldn’t believe you could get college credit for making things up. I don’t really think I knew what I was doing; I don’t think many college students do. But I loved learning from an institution more about the power of a story. It was a great experience.”

He also became aware of various activist groups during his time as a student. A trip to apartheid-era South Africa helped him see the world more clearly.

“It was such a wake-up call,” he said. “It will leave a mark on you forever to be exposed to something you’ve never been exposed to before. For me, it was that.”

Fast-forward to the present, and it was a “no-brainer” when the Points of Light organizers called.

“They were really interested in how you use storytelling to spread the word about causes you’re involved in,” Bush said. “I do believe there’s a way to reach people with water, food and medicine that can give us a new standard of being human.”

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