After buying a pickup truck at 17 percent interest and being let go from his job at a NAPA Auto Parts store due to the farm crisis of the 1980s, Representative Rusty Black decided to follow the path he should have been on all along and become an ag teacher. Little did he know then that his decision to turn to the classroom, would eventually lead him to running for his second term as the 7th District State Representative in the Missouri Legislature.
“There’s opportunities everywhere,” Black said. “When one adversity presents itself, it’s also presenting opportunities at the same time. I’m one of those people that truly believes that.”
While finding his passion for teaching agriculture might have taken longer for him to discover, once it began Black became fully immersed in his chosen profession. He became an active member of organizations such as Missouri Vocational Agriculture Teachers Association (MVATA), Missouri Association for Career and Technical Education (MACTE) and worked to be involved in the legislative committees for both associations.
He spent 32 years impacting students’ lives both in the classroom and out of it and understood that it meant more than just teaching the content.
“Mr. Black always found ways to add in little life lessons while he was teaching,” said Sarah Mason, a former student of Black. “He taught me that just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I can’t do a “guys” job better than he can. He always made the girls go out to the shop and hone our skill, whether it be welding or driving the bobcat. He believed in us.”
You could often find Rusty driving the busload of noisy students on trips rather than driving a more convenient van of a few students. He drove the bus to give as many as possible those opportunities and experiences.
During his years of teaching, Black says that he gained valuable skills that allow him to succeed as a representative. Skills that he may not have gained otherwise. The abilities to listen and compromise being just a few of them.
“When I was young, I made decisions very, very quickly,” Black said. “As I have gotten older, I have become more mature and think about long-term consequences. Constant conflict going on in an ag department between students, teachers and parents made me learn how to negotiate or listen, sometimes not even talk. At 25 years old I would have been ready to fight at the second sentence but now I’m not. And I think it makes me better.”
Rusty truly believes that the mentality of the people changes the outcome of the situation. Black uses that maturity to work in his committees and cooperate with other representatives across the political aisle. All to ensure the progress and growth of Missouri.
Even while focusing on improving Missouri, Black makes sure to stay connected to home. He feels that some of the most important parts of his job include helping his constituents navigate through the government bureaucracy and representing the voters’ views and values. He also knows that although they may be less publicized, sometimes keeping things from happening is just as beneficial to his constituency as making them happen. When it comes to working on a new bill, Black puts aside his ego and makes sure that the right name is behind it.
“Livingston, Linn, and Grundy counties are mostly conservative counties,” Doug Hughes, a registered Democrat, said. “At the end of the day I know that when Rusty Black votes he does it with family, tradition, and agriculture in mind. He’s going to do what’s best for our district.”
After using his past struggles to make and reach new goals, Rusty Black has taken every opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the state of Missouri, advocate for agriculture and change the outlook of those around him.
“We don’t all have to be winners,” Rep. Black said. “We’ve done this ‘everyone gets a ribbon’ thing for too long, but it just doesn’t work that way. People in today’s world believe fair is equal. But fair does not mean equal … not even close. At the end of the day though, being optimistic gets you a lot further than being pessimistic.”