Germaine Smith-Baugh attended high school with her sister in Florida, but spent her summers with her parents in her native St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.
The last of five children, Smith-Baugh said that when she was growing up, her siblings were already on the college track, and convinced her parents that “this was the route I should take. But I’m happy to say that I did my earlier education in the Virgin Islands.’’
The idea, Smith-Baugh said, was to get in-state status, and college would be less expensive. But the experience caused her to mature quickly.
“My sister was very determined not to baby me,” she said. “At 16, I had a job, my own checking and savings account. She was determined that I would know things that she felt she didn’t know when she launched out into the world, so I was treated like an adult. It worked.’’
Smith-Baugh, 36, of Lauderhill, now holds numerous degrees, including a doctorate, and is president and CEO of the Urban League of Broward County, a position she has held since 2006.
On Oct. 8, she was recognized by the South Florida Business Journal as a 2009 Diamond Award honoree. The award celebrates the careers and leadership of 10 Broward County CEOs who have set the standard in the corporate community, including civic leadership and charitable contributions.
During her 13-year tenure with the Urban League, Smith-Baugh has expanded programs for young people, increased the budget, and re-branded the organization’s Equal Opportunity Day dinner as the Red Gala.
Even in the midst of a recession, nearly 600 people attended the $200-a-plate Red Gala on Sept. 26, donning top hats, pinstripe suits and feathers at the “Stompin’ at the Savoy” event at the Broward County Convention Center. The event also included a casino and a spoken-word café.
The dinner has taken place for more than 20 years, Smith-Baugh said, but she re-branded it as the Red Gala last year, when it took on a Caribbean-island theme. She said she learned that the traditional sit-down dinner did not reflect what people really wanted. The name was changed to the Red Gala, she said, because red is the Urban League’s theme color.
“We wanted to create something different; become the go-to event for corporations and individual donors that give to non-profits,’’ she said. “We not only wanted to have a great mission that people wanted to give to, but a really great party that they’d want to attend.”
Corporations will often purchase tables for other events, she continued, and no one will show.
“We wanted not only to get the philanthropic gift, but have people in the seats,” she said.
Smith-Baugh’s recent recognition as a leader in the corporate community was no surprise to Don Bowen, former Broward Urban League president and CEO.
“She started with us right out of graduate school,” Bowen said, “and it was obvious early on that she was exceptional. She stood out from the beginning.”
Smith-Baugh joined the Urban League in 1996 as a program coordinator. She quickly rose through the ranks to Senior Vice President of Programs in 1998.
She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Communication and a Master's Degree in Social Work Administration from Florida State University. In 2005, she received her doctorate from Nova Southeastern University in Organizational Leadership with a concentration in Non-Profit Leadership and
Management, according to her online Urban League bio.
She is married with two children, Victoria, 2, and Allan, 6.
Her husband of 13 years, Paul Baugh, is Nova Middle School’s interim assistant principal.
Bowen, now serving as the National Urban League’s senior vice president of programs in New York City, worked with Smith-Baugh for 10 years. He said she deftly balanced her family responsibilities and her career.
“She was productive even when on maternity leave,” he said. “I always had to stay one step ahead of her.”
Bowen added that Smith-Baugh was always capable of taking on more responsibility. “She is conscientious, something rare in people these days.”
Her career in the Urban League began on the direct service level as a counselor, where she worked to expand and develop program offerings. She served as program officer from 1998 to 2005.
During that time, she said, the budget for program revenue increased by 127 percent.
“We’ve always been a pacesetter affiliate for our operations,” Smith-Baugh said. “With the top score of 5.0 on the National Urban League's third-year assessment, we have scored a consistent five.”
As CEO, Smith-Baugh said that she believes the Urban League has “so much more we can do. I feel a responsibility for the next however many years they will continue to have me here to nurture and cement the Urban League as an organization that really impacts the lives of vulnerable families in Broward.”
But Smith-Baugh’s life was not always filled with accolade and recognition.
“Our beginnings, to say the least, were quite humble,” she said. “I applaud my parents for what they have been able to accomplish.”
Her parents are from Tortola, British Virgin Islands. The couple, she said, “immigrated to St. Thomas with nothing in order to do what they did for me, allowing me to come here.”
Smith-Baugh’s parents are naturalized American citizens, having applied for the status after relocating from Tortola to St. Thomas, she said.
“Of my parents, I was the only child born in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and that made me an automatic citizen of the United States.”
As much as her mother was a homemaker, Smith-Baugh said, being a seamstress and a baker made her a small business owner. But, she said, her mother never saw it that way.
“She sold her work and was thereby able to supplement that family income. That, I feel, was her teaching us about business.”
Despite humble beginnings in St. Thomas, the family has created opportunities for success.
“If you ask my parents about the successes they have experienced, I think they would say [it is because of] God, faith and a strong work ethic. They were very clear about the importance of taking care of family and were always willing to sacrifice. They passed that lesson on to all of us.”
She continued: “They wanted my brothers and sisters to have an education that would allow them the opportunity to, if they did well, move on to higher education.”
Initially, Smith-Baugh said, her family lived in three separate houses. Her parents and a brother lived in one, her sisters in another, and another brother in one by himself.
“My mother would cook dinner and take it to each one of the houses so everyone could have something to eat,” she shared. “It was a couple of years before they were able to get everyone under one roof.”
Although Smith-Baugh said she did not have to experience the sacrifice of all of that, “I am still reminded of the sacrifices they made so that I could become an American citizen.”
Smith-Baugh’s mother is a homemaker and her father, a mason. Her parents, she said, made the decision early on that any time anyone knocked on the door, her mother would be behind it.
“We never came home to an empty house,” she said.
“My father would leave home before 6:30 a.m., work in the St. Thomas sun until 3 o’clock, come home, shower, and then drive a taxi until 9 o’clock at night,” she said. “He has a hustle in him.”
She said of her mother, a “master seamstress,” that “if she sees it, she can sew it.”
Her first party dress, she said, was sewn from light blue curtains. “And every time I go to an event and have to buy my own dress, I think of that dress when handing over my credit card.”
Until she was in the sixth grade, Smith-Baugh said, her family lived in government housing. And looking back, she said, “We were the only intact family in that particular section. That’s where we learned about community.”
If you look at her parents – who still live in St. Thomas – on paper, Smith-Baugh said, “They should not have been able to do the things they do. They never graduated from elementary school and have no other formal education. Nothing is written that would tell you they own two homes and that all of their children have degrees, some of them advanced. They owe no man anything but love; they have no debt.”
Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Germaine Smith-Baugh