By Abby Lutz, American Red Cross Northwest Region Communications Manager
At age 44, after years of working in music and politics, Mario Brown has joined the American Red Cross Northwest Region as the new chapter executive serving Northwest Washington. The shift comes at a time in his life when he says he knew he was done working in politics and “too old to be a Rockstar.” But if you ask him about his role, you will quickly find that for him, it’s much more than just a new career. In fact, after just a few weeks on the job, Mario calls the Red Cross his home.
“Right when I didn’t know what I was going to do, the Red Cross said, ‘you fit here, and we want you.’” Mario says. “The Red Cross has me for life now.”
Mario describes himself as deeply spiritual, saying, “From my point of view, the cosmos was waiting for me to mature to a place where I would appreciate the Red Cross for all of its gifts.”
To fully understand why Mario calls his new title a blessing, it’s helpful to understand the road that brought him here.
Mario’s family moved to Washington from California when he was twelve years old, settling in Kitsap County after his father retired from the Air Force. Mario, the youngest of three, attended Silverdale Elementary school followed by Kitsap County Middle and High School, where his mother worked as the Indian Education Coordinator.
“Her job was to coordinate between the kids on the reservation, their parents, and the school district. So, I got to meet a whole bunch of the local Native American tribes,” Mario explains.
From an early age, Mario was no stranger to the spotlight. He began acting in elementary school and continued through high school. He was a singer, songwriter and speaker.
“My very first formal speech was at a Black History Month event with the NAACP when I was 16,” he says.
That skillset proved valuable when he moved back to Washington after college and landed a job working security for a nearby casino. Because of his unique skillset, he served as a spokesperson for the tribe that owned the casino. That turned into years of Mario advocating for local tribes, while continuing in local politics as well.
“One day I saw an advertisement for a job for the Washington Music Educators Association. And I thought: I have been advocating for people for so long and I am a musician and I love education; this would be perfect,” Mario says.
He got the job and stayed with the nonprofit for ten years, until the organization struggled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He was left with an unknown future and, thanks to a severe injury sustained while trying to string lights on his home for a Christmas party in December of 2021, was left for months without the ability to walk.
That’s when his email inbox chimed. The note shared an open position of the American Red Cross Northwest Region’s Northwest Chapter Executive Director. Other than taking a Red Cross First Aid Course earlier in his life, Mario says at that point, he didn’t know much about the Red Cross as an organization.
“I understood if there was a war somewhere you would see images of the Red Cross. I understood if there was a giant hurricane or an earthquake or a tornado, when you would see the footage, you would often see the Red Cross,” he said. “I had no idea it was everyday house fires. I had no idea it was handing out water bottles to people searching for folks lost in the woods.”
Now, however, that’s not the case.
“Now having joined the Red Cross, I see how much we touch people,” Mario says. “We don’t just change the lives of people going through hard things, you can see the change in our volunteers. I could feel the change in myself when I showed up to my first multi-family fire after having only been here a week and seeing how people enter the room.”
At the Red Cross, it doesn’t matter your age, race, ethnicity, or side of the political aisle when it comes to receiving help. Mario recalls watching Red Cross disaster volunteers respond to families after a home fire, and seeing one central sentiment: “What can I do to help you get through this?” In that moment, Mario says he had one thought run through his head: “I found my people.”
Now, Mario is using his outgoing personality and spokesperson skills to further the Red Cross mission; a mission he calls the “antidote to negativity in the world.”
“Every single morning, I get up and I think ‘what am I going to do today that will help somebody?’ I have always gotten up and had that thought, but it always had to be put aside until I figured out how I am going to pay the rent. Now it is the first thing I think about because it is how I pay the rent, and there’s nothing else in the way,” Mario says. “The Red Cross, it just gave me a home where I can be whole.”
And that is why Mario Brown will tell you that his new role isn’t just a job, it’s a gift. A gift that allows him to use all his life experience to give back to everyone in his community in a real, tangible way.
Mario says one of his immediate priorities while stepping into the Executive Director position is to bring more awareness to resources the Red Cross offers, specifically to minority groups.
“What I want people to know about the Red Cross is that we exist, and that we are a viable option for your life path. You want something to do? Volunteer. You want to help a person in real time? Donate blood. You don’t know what career you want to have? Look at the Red Cross. I need folks to know that we exist, because I didn’t,” Mario said.
In fact, Mario says just in his first month as Executive Director, he’s come across a lot of minority groups that have no relationship with the Red Cross. That’s something he hopes to change.
“I want to go into the communities that are disconnected from society in general sometimes, but from the Red Cross specifically, and get them to understand the Red Cross really is for them,” he says. “The fact that they’re breathing on this planet means the Red Cross is for them and that’s the thing that I want folks to know about. That’s my personal mission.”
“I am Red Cross strong. I have Red Cross heart, and so do you. That’s my focus.”– Mario Brown, American Red Cross Northwest Washington Chapter Executive Director