By: Vanessa Kamberis, Research Associate, HALC
With a strong passion for his heritage, Michael Marks understands the value in promoting and preserving his Hellenic identity. Born and raised in Chicago, Michael’s maternal side of the family is from the island of Ikaria, and his paternal side is from the Peloponnese. Michael’s family encouraged him not only to be active and cultivate his Hellenic roots, but also to strive for greatness in all areas of life. “My dad pushed us to always give our best and to never fear mistakes. When we did stumble, he always supported us. He encouraged us to learn from our mistakes and not to repeat them.”
Michael attended Boston College, where he graduated from the Carroll School of Management. During his sophomore year, he served as the school mascot, Baldwin the Eagle. In this role, Michael had the opportunity to travel around the country with the school’s athletic teams, participating in a variety of school functions, and creating highly unique collegiate experiences.
After graduating from Boston College, he enrolled in culinary school at Kendall College to pursue a career in the hospitality and restaurant industry. Not long after enrolling, Michael was offered a job at one of Chicago’s premier restaurants, One Sixtyblue. Eventually his curiosity for real estate took over, and he accepted a position at Marcus & Millichap, where he worked for nine years. In 2012, he began working at Cushman & Wakefield, where he currently serves as a Managing Director and a co-leader of the firm’s Chicago Retail Investment Sales practice. Over a fifteen year career in the commercial real estate industry, he has transacted or advised on aggregate sales approaching $3 Billion. Michael specializes in urban retail properties with a focus on assets located across celebrated high streets and along thriving neighborhood retail corridors.
Michael has been at the forefront of HALC’s efforts from the beginning. He is particularly passionate about the current refugee crisis in Europe, with a focus on the challenges facing Greece, and the issue of religious freedom surrounding the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey. Michael’s dedication to his Greek identity and his impressive career are only two of the many reasons we are honored to feature him in our I am HALC series.
Can you describe HALC in a few sentences?
HALC is a force for good within our community that provides a platform for people to champion Hellenic ideals and promote causes relevant to many Greek Americans. HALC informs and influences members, policy makers, and stakeholders about issues impacting anyone who values a Hellenic identity.
Why do you choose to be a member of HALC?
I choose to be a member of HALC because it offers a place to make meaningful connections with like-minded Greek Americans whose endeavors are to improve the world. I identify with the organization’s goal to promote thoughtful advocacy around Greek-American causes and to unify the community in support of meaningful agendas. I choose be involved with HALC because it provides an extraordinary window into issues that have long held my interest, and raises my awareness for new challenges Hellenes face globally. Additionally, I think the educational and experiential opportunities HALC co-creates are second to none.
Can you talk a little bit about your involvement in HALC?
HALC has given me the opportunity to travel to DC to advocate for issues and meet with policy makers. My involvement in the organization has afforded me the privilege of visiting the White House for the Annual Greek Independence Day Celebration. HALC has also made it possible for me to participate in the Stand with Greece Summit in September of 2015 and the annual CHIA Conference. Additionally, I have had the opportunity to work with other ethnic communities and organizations, such as the American Jewish Committee. Lastly, I have found HALC sponsored events, whether they are workshops on personal branding, seminars about Greek wines, or various policy briefings incredibly beneficial and fulfilling.
How has HALC brought together the Greek American community?
HALC was built on the shoulders of giants, and has benefited from the good work of earlier community leaders. HALC brings together Greek Americans by drawing inspiration from an impressive past while blazing a new trail for the future. HALC is a pioneer in evolving old advocacy and outreach models through technology and social media. This evolution enables a broader reach and greater connectivity, which in turn fosters more awareness and activism.
In my experience, the organization brings the community together by delivering consistent yet curated information and making the intimidating approachable. HALC distills the issues for members and shares relevant publications, defines talking points, and streamlines advocacy. I also feel HALC unifies the community with a unique ability to create relevant programing for people to engage on a local and national level. Ultimately, HALC gives its members the opportunity to come together and express their voice
What does the Greek community need to do to ensure Hellenic issues remain on the forefront?
I believe it begins and ends with education. Once we become informed and aware of these complex issues and how they impact other parts of the world, it seems impossible not to care about them. One of our biggest challenges is getting the message out and making it resonate with people of all ages. I also believe it helps to maintain an acute awareness for what has or has not worked for other ethnic organizations. We can ensure our issues remain on the forefront if we work smarter and harder to keep them there. To borrow from something my dad promoted that I shared earlier: let’s not fear making mistakes — let’s learn from them and avoid repeating any if we know a better way.
What role do we, as Greek Americans, need to play to preserve Hellenism and Hellenic values in America?
I think Greek Americans have the primary role in preserving Hellenism. Regardless of what generation we are, first, second, or third, we all have the common identity of being Greek Americans. Everybody I know, and continue to meet, has a tremendous sense of pride — not only in their ancestry but also their cultural traditions. As we become a more diverse nation, and as the footprint of our diaspora expands, we must never lose sight of the extraordinary gift people give and receive when allowed to connect more meaningfully with their Greek culture. We have an important responsibility to preserve and promote our traditions because it’s a beautiful way to relate to the world in light of everything that our culture has given to us.
What do you hope to see accomplished by HALC in the next ten years?
My answer is ambitious because ten years is a long time, especially for an organization that has accomplished so much in only a few years. First, I hope HALC can at least double its member base inside of a decade. Next, I’d be thrilled if HALC realized two key goals during that period. The first being a sustainable solution for a unified Cyprus and the other being a safe path forward for our Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey… which starts with reopening Halki seminary. I also hope HALC can usher more global support for Greece to manage the refugee crisis and secure the country’s vast borders. I firmly believe if HALC continues to grow its membership that the education this organization offers to participants who engage will increase its force for good within our community. The sky (or unviolated airspace) is the limit.