germaine-smith-baugh_web.jpgAs we are on the cusp of commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and celebrating the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama, I contemplate the role of leadership in directing our country and our community.

At the Urban League of Broward County’s Community Prayer Breakfast in December, we had a prayer session for national, state and local leaders.  As hands were outstretched to more than a dozen local leaders and pastors, it got me to thinking about the importance of leadership. 

Imagine for a moment that every day you dress in your best jogging outfit and you take a lap around a track. Now picture that in the stands are leaders from across the ages, some famous, others not; even some who are still with us now.  They are intensely watching your stride, movements, your stops and starts. The unique aspect of this “magical” track is that you can call anyone out of the stands to take a lap with you.

As you take your jogs around the track, whom would you call out of the stands? What would you ask them? What would you do with the seeds of wisdom and inspiration?

I had the chance recently to sit with a great leader (and now friend): John Jacob, the past president of the National Urban League.  I sent a letter asking if he would consider meeting with me as one of the new and emerging leaders in the National Urban League movement.

It is not too often that you have a national president living within driving distance.  He quickly responded with a “Yes!”

Mr. Jacob served the Urban League movement in several capacities for nearly three decades, and was the national president from 1982 to 1994.  He and his wife, Barbara, were gracious, and shared stories, thoughts, obstacles and accomplishments. I left inspired, challenged, and – most importantly – blessed that a leader of his stature would take the time to jog a lap with me. 

Our community is calling each of us to take a L.A.P. – to Lead, to Act, to Persevere! We have to decide to move beyond the status quo and to do what is right, even when it is not popular or may even be uncomfortable,  and make the  conscious decision to stick through the rough patches.

In the words of Langston Hughes, “the stairs has tacks in it and splinters and boards torn up.”

With dropout rates soaring among black boys, teen pregnancy rates on the rise, looming double-digit unemployment and skyrocketing foreclosures, our future generations are counting on us to get off the sidelines, call someone out of the stands, and take a L.A.P. today!

Germaine Smith-Baugh is the president and CEO of the Urban League of Broward County.