Photo: David I. Muir

U.S. Virgin Islands | President and CEO of the Urban League of Broward County

“If you don’t quit, you win.” Heidi Baker

Dr. Germaine Smith-Baugh leads the Urban League of Broward County, the local chapter of a historic civil rights organization dedicated to economic empowerment in underserved urban communities. The U.S. Virgin Islands native currently oversees the $21 million in ULBC assets she has built with her team since assuming leadership in 2006, and governs state-appropriated funds for seven other National Urban League affiliates. 

As a champion for equity and inclusion, her impressive resume includes opening the $9 million Community Empowerment Center in Historic Sistrunk and earning U.S. Treasury Department recognition for a ULBC subsidiary that supports the efforts of their Entrepreneurship Center and Small Loan Fund. Dr. Smith-Baugh, or Dr. G, as she’s fondly known, was a Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship Fellow and inductee in the Broward County Women’s Hall of Fame.

What inspired your interest to get involved with the Urban League?

I have always been inspired by service. From a little girl, I was the one who would help my mother, who served as a Sunday School teacher, prepare her lessons. You may recall when you would put carbon paper between sheets to create copies – I would do that for worksheets for the class. Therefore for me, the idea of working in the community and advancing change in the lives of families and community just felt very natural. Today, I am inspired by the tenacity and resilience of the families, adults and children that I see every day that simply won’t quit. I remind them of a tiny secret of the universe: if you don’t quit, you win.

What was your first job and how did you rise to President and CEO?

My first paid gig was washing the floor mats of my father’s car. My father, in addition to his construction day job in the Public Works Department in the U.S.V.I, did gypsy taxiing. Many folks in the Caribbean are familiar with the term – “the unofficial taxi”.

I was paid weekly to wash the car floor mats and keep that aspect of the car clean. I have not thought about that in a long time, but as I look back on my career, to date, it is the willingness not to take anything for granted and not to despise the days of ‘small’ things have helped me to enjoy and rise to the positions that I have had thus far in my career. Lastly, I would say that more than anything I am a learner and I enjoy discovery. I will spend time researching, reading, and sharing knowledge. 

What would you like to see change in the current political/social atmosphere?

The current political and social atmosphere is volatile at best and I say that with the recognition that maybe it has always been, but more people are paying attention and weighing in on matters that mean something to them. I think that’s what I would like to see more pronounced. I would like to see and hear more voices on the margins.

I believe that we need to be on those margins asking the people for whom we believe that we are creating better outcomes, how they see and want their world to be. We have a tendency to build up these power structures devoid of the people who truly will be most impacted. If we do a better job of putting the people in the middle, the outcomes we seek would far outlast any power structure, political and/or social. 

What is your greatest career strength?

I believe my greatest career strength is my ability to connect dots relatively quickly to advance the agenda of the Urban League and other mission-oriented, whether they are for profit or non-profit entities. I have the opportunity to engage with a lot of people from different backgrounds, knowledge and skills and I see it as an honor to bring ideas together for higher purposes.

What two or three books would you recommend that people who admire you should read?

I am reading the book, “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson, and I am finding it to be a riveting mix of American Black History and storytelling. I am a big leadership book junkie so one book that helped me when I was flailing was “The One Thing” by Keller and Papasan. And the last book, and yes you can read it as a book, is the Bible – it demonstrates to me there is nothing new under the sun, and here is your guidebook if you are willing to meditate on it.  

Chatting with Caribbean Trailblazer Dr. Germaine Smith-Baugh

What is one piece of advice you would pass on to the next generation?

I have the opportunity to work directly with teens at my local church. I was telling them the saying I shared above. There is so much in this world that tells you to give up and that all of this is for naught. I remind them that “all things work together,” so don’t quit and you will win. 

What does the word “family” mean to you?

It is the beginning and the end. Nothing else, other than my relationship with God, will matter in the end. And I pray that I show up and set an example for them now in a way that they won’t leave me abandoned in a nursing home…smile. 

What are you most grateful for in your life?

I am most grateful for peace of mind, which I think we take for granted in our world. Therefore every day, I pray to be granted peace of mind. I need to be reassured that despite the peaks and valleys that I won’t lose my peace. 

What is your favorite Caribbean tradition?

My favorite Caribbean tradition is the gathering of family and friends around the holidays, whether it is Christmas, Carnival, Easter and the list goes on….just the energy that we as Caribbean people put into celebrating is electric and awe inspiring to me. 

What was your upbringing like and how has that influenced who you are today?

Like most Caribbean and Black people of my generation, our beginnings and upbringing were humble. I would not change a bit of it because it has influenced me to be grateful, to know myself and to respect the process of growth. My parents are hardworking and they transferred that to each of their children. Therefore, I am really turned off by lazy people. And lazy for me is not a condition that is just manifested in physical action – a person can be a lazy thinker. I believe we have so much to offer this world and our time is limited – let’s be fully used up before our time runs out on this earth. 

What would people you know find surprising about you?

I think people would find it surprising that I don’t mind being the quiet one in most situations. I have evolved as a leader and a person to be more outspoken and engaging, but I prefer more intimate one-on-one relationships. My role at the Urban League requires me to be somewhat of an extrovert, but truth be told I would be the person at the conference that would retreat to my hotel room instead of at the bar yacking it up with others. I find my superpower in my silence and the ability to connect with individuals. It just happens to all work out in the end game. 


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