About Our Founder

Michael Marks is a former Mississippi Teacher of the Year, National Milken Educator and America’s Outstanding Teacher of the Performing Arts, currently serving as National Executive Director of Schools Against Vaping.

Instructor of theatre for over 20 years at Hattiesburg High School, he directed over 50 productions including The Wiz, which played at The International Theatre Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Under his direction, Music Theatre International selected HHS as America’s Best High School Performing Arts Department.  His theatre students have originated roles in national shows from Broadway’s Hairspray to Marvel’s Black Panther to NCIS: New Orleans.  HHS Thespians became the first high school in America to establish a chapter of Equity Fights AIDS on its campus.

As debate coach at Hattiesburg high School, he qualified students to national tournaments in every event.  His mock trial teams claimed eight state championships and as many Top Ten finishes in national competition.  He served on the Deep South District Committee, chaired The Mississippi District, and served as a national parliamentarian for the National Forensic League (now National Speech and Debate Association), a founding director of National Individual Events Tournament of Champions and founder of the Biloxi Catholic Forensic League.

As a playwright, his Hattiesburg High School docudrama, The Katrina Project: Hell and High Water, toured the continental United States, including a performance in Dallas at the National Forensics League Tournament; enjoyed a command performance for Congress; and received the NEA’s National Human and Civil Rights award. The show was recently revived for the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and to date has generated over $400,000 in relief benefits for natural disaster victims in our country.

As former president of The Mississippi Association of Educators, he once negotiated a 36% pay raise for his state’s educators.  As former Executive Officer of the 3.3-million-member National Education Association, he was responsible for the National Read Across America Program.  He represented America at The Education International Conference in Berlin, keynoted the India Teachers Conference and championed diversity via workshops he presented in Barbados.  In addition, he served as National Treasurer of The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and chaired the Hattiesburg Mayoral Health Council. He also chaired the National Task Force on Early Childhood Education and Sales & Marketing Professionals’ Pinnacle Awards.

A founding director and former President of The Miss Mississippi Pageant Local Directors Association, he holds the distinction of having his contestant win the state title for a record 4 times.  In addition, he directed the Miss Mississippi Troupe and served as talent coach for Mississippi’s last national winner.  In addition to a Miss America title, his former students have also included an America’s Junior Miss (now America’s Distinguished Young Woman) and Miss Teen of America.

When funding was recently cut from the Hattiesburg High School Debate Team, he organized Speak Up, Hattiesburg, a community-built coalition that raised $16K to keep the speech and debate team on the road. Speech and Debate coaches from across the country recognized his efforts with their Josephine Dukes National Teacher of the Year distinction. A member of the Public Relations Association of Mississippi, he is co-author of the book, Katrina: Ten Years After and serves as Vice-President of Downtown Hattiesburg Association, and on the boards of Promote the Vote, Southern Miss Partners for the Arts, Mississippi Miss Hospitality Competition, Pine Belt Foundation and CEO for the educational and arts consulting firm Stage, Style & Study, LLC.  He is President of the Board of Directors of YMCA of Southeast Mississippi.

He is a brother of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and a lifetime member of the NAACP. For his exceptional community service, he received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award from his alma mater, The University of Southern Mississippi.  He is a former principal of Mississippi’s ADEPT Dropout Recovery School, former Public Relations Coordinator at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg, and recently raised thousands of dollars to provide Chromebooks for Hattiesburg Public School District students in order to facilitate distance learning during the pandemic, as chair of the Hattiesburg Hall of Fame. In the City of Hattiesburg, he has recently been appointed as both Commissioner of Hattiesburg Tourism and Municipal Elections Commissioner. He is Founder of the non-profit goodwill organization Mississippi United and was recently tapped for inclusion in the National Speech & Debate Hall of Fame.