Headshot of Mark Reading-Smith

Meet our Incoming Executive Director

Jul 7, 2023
I have built a career working behind the scenes to center colleagues and impact issues for communities I am not a part of. This will be a pillar of how I engage as ReThink's Executive Director.

9/11 happened in my first week of college. My Dad was on a flight out of Boston that morning, but I couldn’t remember where he was going, and I will never forget the six excruciating hours before he found me. In the haze of grief, mixed with the relief of finding out he was okay, I will never forget his final words during that phone call: “I have seen this before, you are about to see your country go to war.” And we did.

In the years to follow, our nation’s response to 9/11 made me seething mad, and shaped many of my early career decisions. Raised in a family of journalists where international relations, civil rights, and politics were a constant topic, I’ve built my career at the intersection of those issues.

In 2009, I left my job in investigative journalism, packed one suitcase, and moved from DC to Berkeley to become ReThink’s third full-time hire. I would rise at 4am each day, devour the news of the day and build and deliver the news clips to partner organizations. While I bemoaned the assignment - like any sane person should - the secret was that I loved this work. As a result, I understood the media landscape, the angles reporters were most interested in, and what our partner organizations were doing in terms of engaging and messaging, while seizing opportunities for increasing our collective voice share. Those early days working on ReThink’s Rights & Inclusion work while simultaneously learning side-by-side from my Peace & Security colleagues were critical exciting days when we were all learning how to build the organization together.

I will never forget one of my proudest moments at ReThink, when I supported the successful multi-year campaign to ensure that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to adopt and publish their damning report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. ReThink led this communications work without fanfare or praise, and my greatest takeaway was that long-time organizational competitors could learn to work together seamlessly on a common mission to accomplish great things.

There were also extraordinarily difficult days, like when ReThink was the first phone call that the Sikh Coalition made on August 5, 2012, when a gunman with neo-Nazi ties walked into a gurdwara and murdered six community members. For the next 60 days, we provided the Sikh community around-the-clock rapid response and crisis communications support; nobody else could have done that work the way that ReThink did.  

The shooting in Oak Creek had a profound impact on me, and in 2014, I became the Sikh Coalition’s first-ever Communications Director, then transitioned to the Managing Director of Programs in 2019. I took the job at the Sikh Coalition for multiple reasons, but most importantly I recognized that as a white man working on policy issues that disproportionately impacted communities of color, I needed to learn the work from the perspective of a community-based organization that was sitting on the front lines. 

In the nine years since, I have worked with colleagues and community activists to organize, mobilize and deliver lasting impact through litigation, legislation, education, and developing new programs to deepen civic engagement. I have been committed to using my power and privilege to center voices that are not my own; I’m proud to say that I have built a career working behind-the-scenes to empower the work of my diverse colleagues and impact policy issues for communities of which I am not a part. This approach will be a pillar of how I engage as ReThink’s Executive Director. I am here to champion ReThink’s mission behind-closed-doors with funders and partners, while listening to understand competing interests and perspectives, and ensuring that ReThink supports organizations in delivering progressive policy results.

Lynn Fahselt and Peter Ferenbach have been visionaries for seeing the vast utility of ReThink, and they remain unrivaled in their understanding of how important media and communications work is to shaping these debates. As I return home to ReThink, the easiest decision I will ever make is to ensure that their 70+ years of combined expertise remains available to me and the team. I have enormous shoes to fill and I will spend every day working as hard as they have to uphold the same standards of excellence that you have come to expect from ReThink.

This work matters to me because I want to win. I want ReThink to continue to be an essential driving force in winning the progressive issues that define our country, the issues that my baby daughter’s generation will face in her lifetime. These issues keep me up at night, and it is my personal and professional commitment to give everything I have to this role; it’s too important not to.

I can’t wait to get started!

Read a letter from our Board Chair to the ReThink Community here. Read a letter from our co-founders here.