Writer: Calibe Thompson | Photography: David I. Muir
Near the corner of Sistrunk Boulevard and 27th Avenue in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, sits the prominent red and white building that is home to the urban league of Broward County (ULBC). That’s where we met with president and CEO, Dr Germaine Smith Baugh. She is a community leader with confident ease.
21 YEARS AGO, bright eyed and ready to save the world, she began in direct service social work with the ULBC, coordinating a science and arts program with a group of 50 girls. In her eyes at the time, she was inspiring major change. Just over a year later, she was called into the office of the president and offered the job of VP, a position he thought was better suited for her obvious tenacity and leadership skills, and from which she, in fact, helped exponentially more people.
Since then she has led the charge in building and soliciting $9 million in financing for the construction of the ULBC’s state of the art headquarters. She has played a role in improving the lives of thousands of Broward residents, and currently controls a budget in excess of $12 million annually, used by the organization to help African-Americans gain economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights.
To the work she’s now involved with, young Germaine’s life was very different. As the fifth and final child of a construction worker father and a homemaker mother, her resources were limited. She recalls stories of her father working ‘off island’, away from Tortola in the Virgin Islands. He would send money to her mother, who would purchase a few concrete blocks at a time toward the construction of the family home which they built slowly, as the resources became available. From Tortola, to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands where she was born, and then on to Florida where she has lived since she was a teenager, her family made the most of what little they had.
Though there were times so tight that her siblings and parents were split up, living with friends and family in multiple homes, she speaks with pride about never lacking in culture or education, and never going hungry. According to Dr G as she is fondly known, her parents’ determination that they could improve their family’s lives, even with their meager resources, convinced her that she, an island girl from a simple background, could some day affect lives in a positive, remarkable way.
She recalls when as newly appointed President and CEO, she sat with the board of directors, largely made up of titans of business and industry. It was early on in the Great Recession and she had a hard choice, to move forward with a plan to build a new home for the organization, or do the ‘safe’ thing and remain satisfied where they were. At a time when money was becoming more scarce and even the highly accomplished folks at the table balked at the idea of undertaking a multi-million dollar project for the non-profit, she remained determined.
“If we’re sitting around this table fearful about the economy, the people that the Urban League serves are already under the bridge,” she declared. Under her leadership, the ULBC would build a community empowerment center that would prepare their team and its clients for better times to come. The board chair offered anyone opposed to the idea an “out”. No one took it.
The 27,000 square foot building is now home to a staff of 71 that Dr G manages. Her office is filled with books on leadership advice, information which she proudly imparts on every agent who joins her team. The organization she leads helps hundreds of Broward county’s minority residents, each year, in the areas of education, jobs, health, housing and most recently, entrepreneurship. Dr Germaine Smith Baugh – wife, mother of two, daughter of the US Virgin Islands and of innovative and hardworking Caribbean parents, is a true example of where grit, smarts and a healthy dose of good old West Indian work ethic can take you in the USA.