The Rev. Mark A. Thompson, affectionately known as Rev. Mark, is a Morehouse College Martin Luther King, Jr. Board of Preachers 2023 Inductee.
Rev. Mark has spent most of his life in public ministry as a political, civil rights & human rights activist and organizer. He not only has been a part of every major social justice movement & event over the past 40 years, he has also been a radio broadcaster for three decades, and he has spent over 10 years as a television commentator, as well. He hosts Make It Plain (MIP), a political, human rights and breaking news podcast. Rev. Mark’s lifelong social justice activism intersects with his years of experience broadcasting the news and issues of the day.
In 2021, MIP was named among Best Civil Rights Podcasts, Best Human Rights Podcasts, Best Podcasts About Social Justice and Best Broadcast Television Podcasts.
He was honored at the 104th Annual NAACP Convention in Orlando in July 2013 “for 25 years of crusading journalism and outstanding leadership in furthering the work of civil and human rights.”
Rev. Mark is the great-great grandson of the Rev. William F. Simons, who organized Miles CME Church in Washington, DC in 1883, and pastored Collins Chapel CME in Memphis, Tennessee from 1895-1897. He is also the great-great grandson of the Rev. Joseph Keill, who organized Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee in 1885. Rev. Keill’s son-in-law, and Rev. Mark's great grandfather, Fleetwood Petway, would become a renowned music director at First Baptist Church East Nashville, a congregation organized with the help of the Rev. Nelson Merry and formerly enslaved members of the congregation that became First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill.
He was born in Washington, DC and reared in Nashville, Tennessee by a loving mother, Janet Elizabeth Petway Thompson, and grandmother, Elizabeth Polk Petway Lowe. Rev. Mark’s mother and grandmother raised him in Clark Memorial United Methodist Church, one of the headquarters of the Nashville sit-in movement, where the Rev. Dr James Lawson held his nonviolent trainings, and where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. held his Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Annual Meeting in 1961. He would grow up to meet and work with some who attended those nonviolent trainings at Clark, including John Lewis, Diane Nash, Bernard Lafayette and Marion Barry. Rev. Mark was baptized by the Rev. William C. Dobbins, who was motivated by Dr. King, his next door neighbor in Montgomery, to lead the desegregation movement in Pensacola, Florida. Later called to pastor Clark in Nashville, Rev. Dobbins, in turn, motivated Rev. Mark to discern his call to the ordained ministry, to the prophetic gospel and to social justice.
Not only was Rev. Dobbins instrumental in Rev. Mark’s direction toward ministry, but so, too, was Rev. Mark’s “Uncle Lin”—-Bishop Cornelius L. Henderson—who mentored him prior to leaving Nashville to become President of Gammon Theological Seminary.
Also, Rev. Mark greatly admired the Rev. Dr. Kelly Miller Smith, Sr., Pastor of Nashville's First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill and the founder of the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference. First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill was another headquarters for the Nashville sit-in movement, the site of the mass meetings and Rev. Smith, Sr. was the movement's leading local pastor. Rev. Mark’s stepgrandfather, Dr. James U. Lowe, Jr., served as a Deacon at First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, under Rev. Smith, Sr. When Rev. Mark would visit First Baptist, he had an opportunity to hear many of Dr. King’s contemporaries. Both Rev. Dobbins and Rev. Smith, Sr. served as co-ministers in performing the wedding ceremony for Rev. Mark’s grandmother and stepgrandfather.
His maternal grandfather, Joseph K. Petway, Sr., was a Principal of Nashville Meigs Junior High, and a founder of two early African American teachers unions in the South–the Middle Tennessee Colored Teachers Association, and the Tennessee Negro Education Association, along with Tennessee State President Dr. Walter S. Davis, and Memphis Booker T. Washington High Principal and Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church Pastor Blair T. Hunt. Rev. Hunt was also a member of Rev. Mark’s paternal family. When DC Public Schools hired Rev. Mark in 2001 to develop a radio broadcast curriculum for DC Public Schools, he not only taught radio broadcasting at Ballou Senior High School, he, like his grandfather, represented teachers as the elected Building Representative for the American Federation of Teachers for five years.
Mr. Petway would later serve as Director of Admissions at Fisk University during the Civil Rights era. Rev. Mark’s mother followed in her father’s footsteps, and served in an administrative role to Fisk Presidents for three decades while raising Rev. Mark as a single mother living on Fisk’s campus. Being raised on Fisk’s campus in the 1970’s, he gained a wealth of African American history and culture.
Throughout his youth at Clark, he served as Head Acolyte, and as Rev. Dobbins Pulpit Assistant. He was also an Acolyte and Lector, as early as the second grade, at his elementary school, St. Vincent de Paul. Neither Rev. Dobbins, his mother, grandmother, nor his Uncle Lin pressured him to pursue the ministry. They simply surrounded Rev. Mark with love, support and with responsibility in the incubator of the church.
The path to his discernment took an unexpected turn in 1983. When Rev. Mark was 16, Rev. Dobbins passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. The entire Clark congregation was devastated, but no one more than Rev. Mark, because he had been a true father figure to him, and his death had the greatest impact on his call to the ministry. For months after his passing, Rev. Dobbins’ voice would awaken him, saying, “Mark, come and go with me.” Rev. Mark discerned that he was being asked to join the ordained ministry. However, he did not believe he was prepared to answer the call at that young an age. He sought the counsel of his Pastor’s successor and protégé, Bishop James R. King. He counseled Rev. Mark on the many ways to serve in ministry until the time was right to put on the ministerial collar, including serving the cause of civil rights and social justice. Though he did not answer the call to ordained ministry, relatives and friends began to refer to him as, “Rev. Mark.”
The very next year, First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, lost Rev. Smith, Sr. Rev. Mark was also profoundly affected by Rev. Smith’s passing, and attended his funeral.
The influence of these two men and the void left by their premature deaths inspired him, even more, to take up the cause of civil rights and social justice.
Even in high school, Rev. Mark was involved in civil rights. By the time of his high school graduation in 1985 from the University School of Nashville (USN), the school yearbook referred to him as “USN’s own civil rights leader.” He traveled to Washington, DC to participate in the South African Embassy demonstrations against apartheid which began in 1984. He was actively involved in the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s first presidential campaign in also in 1984, and marched with Rev. Jackson against Ronald Reagan’s 1985 inauguration. He would later work in Rev. Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign, and in the Rev. Al Sharpton’s 2004 presidential campaign.
As a Georgetown University freshman in 1985, Rev. Mark was one of the organizers of the shantytown built on Copley Lawn which led to the University’s divestment from apartheid South Africa. While he was a correspondent for the Georgetown student newspaper, his editors at The Hoya resisted calls to censor his coverage of the Reagan Administration’s “constructive engagement”’with the apartheid regime despite White House pressure upon university officials.
Also, while at Georgetown, he was selected by Men's Basketball Coach John Thompson, Jr., to be a Manager for the Hoyas, and was a member of the 1986/87 Big East Championship Team. Coach Thompson and Rev. Mark developed a father-son relationship, and he delivered Coach Thompson’s eulogy.
He would eventually transfer from Georgetown to the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), where Coach Thompson’s mother attended Miner Teachers College, and where Coach Thompson himself earned his Masters, and shared a mutual mentor with Rev. Mark: Dr. Anita Hughes, a Federal City College/UDC Professor.
His ordination in the ministry succeeded his likely pre-ordination at birth to also become a broadcaster. He was born in Washington, DC at Freedmen’s Hospital, now known as the Howard University School of Communications. Rev. Mark began his broadcast career in 1988 with Radio One, Inc. under the guidance of owner Cathy Hughes, for whom the Howard University School of Communications is now named. He began as a news correspondent for WOL-AM, which once featured the renowned Petey Greene. When Hughes tapped Rev. Mark to host her popular morning show, she hired the legendary Dick Gregory to be his co-host, and the two began a 25-year friendship.
In 1989, Rev. Mark, his St. Vincent education making him no stranger to Catholicism, participated in the successful organization and establishment of the African American Catholic Congregation, as it severed ties with the Roman Catholic Church.
While matriculating at UDC, Rev. Mark was President of the Pan African Student Union and was an organizer of several historic events. including the campus visits of African National Congress Deputy President Walter Sisulu and Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Arisitide. He also organized on-campus lectures at both the UDC Auditorium and the Miner Teachers College Auditorium with scholars and activists, including Dr. John Henrik Clarke, Dr. Yosef ben Jochannon, Dr. Charshee McIntre, Dr. Leonard Jeffries, Dr, Frances Cress Welsing, Dr. Ronald Walters, Kwame Ture and Marcus Garvey, Jr. Rev. Mark organized a premiere and discussion of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X at the UDC Auditorium.
In 1990, after the UDC Board of Trustees refused to meet with students to discuss its proposed fundraising strategy that led to a retaliatory Congress cutting UDC’s operating budget directly impacting students, and after local media began to amplify the pejorative meme that UDC stood for “University of Dumb Children,” the students rose up and demanded their self-respect. Rev. Mark was organizer and spokesperson for KIAMSHA (Kiswahili for that which wakes you up), the 1990 eleven-day student protest and boycott. KIMASHA dominated local and national media and captivated the Washington, DC community. The students demanded not only their self-respect, but advocated for better facilities and services at UDC, including expanded library hours. Ultimately, the UDC faculty, the UDC Administration, the DC Council and Mayor Marion Barry joined the students’ cause. When KIAMSHA ended, Rev. Mark was named one of the "100 Most Powerful People in Washington" by Regardie’s magazine.
Also in 1990, Rev. Mark also managed former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Executive Secretary James Forman’s campaign for DC Shadow Senator.
In 1992, He teamed with the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization to Abolish the Death Penalty, and fellow activist Ben Jealous, who would go on to head the NAACP, to organize and lead a campaign against a Congressionally-imposed ballot initiative forcing the death penalty on the District of Columbia. The “Thou Shalt Not Kill” campaign mobilized voters to defeat the initiative on Nov. 3, 1992.
In 1993, after organizing the weekly civil disobedience and submitting to the weekly arrests on Capitol Hill that helped win the first-ever Congressional vote on DC Statehood, Rev. Mark was jailed for 20 days in the D.C. Jail. Both the Stand Up for Democracy Coalition and Rev. Mark received the United Nations Association 2004 Human Rights Award for their Statehood activism.
He was a cofounder and Chair of the Umoja Party, and, in 1994 at the suggestion of SNCC’s Doug Moore, ran for Chair of the Washington DC City Council on a Unity ticket alongside SNCC’s Marion Barry, who was running for re-election as Mayor. Mayor Barry won his fourth term, and although Rev. Mark did not win Council Chair, the Umoja Party won the necessary number of votes to become the most recent Black political party to attain ballot-status in the U.S.
In 1994, he also helped to organize the National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS) which grew out of the NAACP, under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. The idea of the Million Man March took shape during NAALS.
In 1996, Rev. Mark was the National Black Political Convention Chair, and gaveled the proceedings. Also, in 1996, he joined Dick Gregory, Joe Madison and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, a former Clark Pastor, in nonviolent civil disobedience against the CIA’s and DEA’s roles in the crack cocaine epidemic as exposed by journalist Gary Webb and Congresswoman Maxine Waters.
From 1997 to 2010, Rev. Mark chaired the NAACP Metropolitan Police and Criminal Justice Review Task Force for the DC Branch. The Task Force grew out of the 1996, the Lazenby-Semple Community Task Force, which confronted the low homicide closure rates of over 120 African American women in Washington, DC. As Task Force Chair, Rev. Mark co-authored legislation establishing the Board and Office of Police Complaints, and facilitated the beginning of an unprecedented study on racial profiling. He also taught a course in diversity awareness and cultural sensitivity at the DC Police Academy entitled, The Historical Relationship Between African Americans and Law Enforcement. One of the many honors the Task Force received was from the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC.
On October 5, 1998, Rev. Mark and NAACP DC Branch President, NAACP National Board Member, and Israel Baptist Church Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Morris L. Shearin, Sr., NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, Rev. Mark and hundreds were arrested at the Supreme Court protesting the Court’s miniscule number of minority law clerks.. While sharing a jail cell, Rev. Shearin asked, “Mark, you have a calling on your life, don’t you?” With Rev. Shearin’s encouragement, Rev. Mark finally discerned there was no longer any point delaying God’s call. Rev. Shearin also discouraged Rev. Mark from abandoning his role in media. In fact, Rev. Shearin saw his broadcasting career as another forum to spread the Prophetic Gospel.
He was ordained a minister of the Gospel at Israel Baptist Church in Washington, DC., where he served as an Associate Minister from 2003 - 2011. The Rev. Dr. Walter E. Fauntroy, MLK’s Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Washington Bureau, was a member of Rev. Mark’s ordination council.
MIP, was the first talk show to sign on XM Satellite Radio in 2001, and the only talk show to have been broadcast on XM exclusively, then Sirius exclusively, and then broadcast on both Sirius and XM. He was the first and only African American talk host on SiriusXM Progress, and he was the only African American in the U.S. hosting a daily, national show on a progressive/liberal talk format.
When Rev. Mark joined SiriusXM Progress, the predominantly white, liberal audience, was skeptical of listening to a Christian minister as a host because of right-wing, conservative evangelicalism's disproportionate hold on national religious discourse. He educated his audience that the brand of Christianity they feared was not the last word on the faith. He introduced his audience to the African American church and liberation theology, which the audience embraced.
His radio broadcast highlights over the years have included live, daily coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial and he anchored both live coverage of 9/11 for twelve consecutive hours, as well as live coverage of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Rev. Mark anchored coverage of the dedication of the MLK Memorial. He anchored every one of President Bill Clinton’s and President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Addresses. For several consecutive weeks, he broadcast Occupy Wall Street live, on location from New York's Zuccotti Park. The pursuit and arrest of the Boston Marathon bombers occurred live on MIP.
He broadcast from the streets of Sanford, Florida, Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland in the aftermath of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, respectively.
In 2013, at a Moral Monday led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, he was arrested and jailed live on air.
Rev. Mark has interviewed theological giants, like the Rev Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, the Rev. Dr. James H. Cone, and his professor at Howard Divinity, Dr. Cain Hope Felder. He has also interviewed intellectual giants like Dr. Yosef ben Jochannon, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, and two of his mentors, Dr. John Henrik Clarke and Dr. Charshee McIntire.
During Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, Obama’s Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., chose Rev. Mark and MIP as the exclusive medium to which he granted interviews, as other mainstream media were so hostile to Rev. Wright.
He broadcast from Johannesburg and Soweto, and teamed with the AFL-CIO to register both migrant workers and the incarcerated to vote during the first-ever democratic elections in 1994 in South Africa, where he received the name, Matsimela Mapfumo, which means “firmly rooted soldier.” He also anchored live coverage of Nelson Mandela’s state funeral in 2013.
In 2019, Rev. Mark conducted John Lewis’s final interview on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. He has broadcast from every Democratic National Convention and every NAACP convention for almost two decades. Rev. Mark interviewed every Democratic who was vying for the presidency before the presumptive 2022 nomination.
He has also been a political and civil rights commentator, most frequently on MSNBC, for the past 12 years. MSNBC followed Rev. Mark’s exclusive coverage of the vote to expel the Tennessee Three on April 6, 2023.
Rev. Mark has emceed the Million Man March, every anniversary of the Million Man March, every anniversary of the March on Washington, and the annual Jubilee commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama, where he also serves on the Bridge Crossing Jubilee Board.
Beginning in 2020, and through 2021, Rev. Mark led the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference daily national prayer call, The Proctor Prayerdemic.
As a member of the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (N’COBRA) Litigation Commission, He was also one of the organizers of the 2002 Millions for Reparations March, and its emcee. Rev. Mark is an active advocate for passage of H.R. 40, the Congressional legislation to establish a Commission to study and develop reparations proposals. Along with the praise and protest gospel group Common Hymnal, he recently co-published the song, "H.R. 40 Reparations Now" available on all digital streaming platforms, including Apple and Spotify, and at HR40Song.com/ReparationsNOW.
Rev. Mark helped to organize the inaugural gathering of the Just Leadership USA's JustUs Coordinating Council to serve as a spearhead for the criminal justice reform movement in 2023.
Also in 2023, Rev. Mark joined voter registration efforts in both Kentucky, where Until Freedom mobilized a Stop Daniel Cameron campaign in memory of Breonna Taylor, and also in Mississippi,where Bishop William J. Barber and Repairers of the Breach mobilized poor and low wealth voters.
Rev. Mark is a co-signatory and co-organizer of the Black Christian faith leaders' letter signed by over 900 African American clergy, and published as a full-page ad in the New York Times, Nov. 8, 2023, urging President Biden to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war. He is also, a co-writer of the upcoming song, "Ceasefire."
Rev. Mark is a primary subject in bestselling author and Oxford University geneticist Brian Sykes’ book, DNA USA: A Genetic Biography of America. He also is an AfricanAncestry.com Board Member.
Rev. Mark is a Life Member of the NAACP, the National Action Network, the National Council of Negro Women, the National Congress of Black Women and the National Organization of Women and N'COBRA. He is a member of the Senior Advisory Board for the Institute of Politics, Policy and History at the University of the District of Columbia. He is an active organizer for the Poor People’s Campaign, Repairers of the Breach, the Black Church Political Action Committee, Community First Solutions, Black Voters Matter, Live Free USA and Until Freedom. Rev. Mark also serves on the Senior Advisory Board of the UDC Institute of Politics, Policy and History. Rev. Mark is a frequent guest in pulpits and on media networks around the nation.
He attended the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service before earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Media from the University of the District of Columbia, where he was the Founder’s Day Keynote Speaker in 2020. He earned his Masters Degree in Divinity from Howard University.
Rev. Mark lives in New York, NY, and is the proud father of a daughter, Iftin, who has a Masters in Science Degree in Transportation Engineering, and a son, Menra, who is a member of the Clark Atlanta Baseball Team, and an Honors Student in Mass Communications.