Following an extensive nationwide search, the Pinellas County Urban League’s board of directors selected a known local commodity to lead the organization into a new era.
Nikki Gaskin-Capehart will serve as the Urban League’s new president and CEO. She is the first woman to lead the 46-year-old Pinellas County affiliate that promotes economic empowerment in African-American and underserved communities.
Gaskin-Capehart also fills a significant void left by Rev. Watson L. Haynes II. He led the organization for a decade before his death in August 2022.
“It is an absolute honor for me to be able to walk in the footsteps of my mentor (Haynes),” Gaskin-Capehart told the Catalyst. “And to be able to take the legacy that he left in our community to the next level in serving our community.”
According to Thursday’s announcement, the board, in collaboration with the National Urban League, began a “phased search” for Watson’s successor in December 2022. Gaskin-Capehart’s 25 years of public and private experience set her apart from other candidates.
In a prepared statement, Board Chairman Rodney Willson called her “the intergenerational leader that we need during this important time of transition for the Pinellas County Urban League.”
Gaskin-Capehart echoed that sentiment and believes she can connect younger and older generations. She also noted that her nonprofit, government and entrepreneurial background has enabled her to keep her fingers on the county’s pulse.
Gaskin-Capehart previously served as outreach director for Congressman Jim Davis, deputy district director Congresswoman Kathy Castor and former Mayor Rick Kriseman’s director of urban affairs. She helped address underserved residents’ needs for eight years in that role.
Gaskin-Capehart developed the city’s urban affairs department’s four pillars, which overlap with the Urban League’s mission. Those include opportunity creation, nurturing neighborhoods and families, connecting through cultural affairs and catalyzing commerce.
“I have no doubts she will bring the same spirit of excellence and innovation to her role as CEO of the agency,” Kriseman said.
Similarly, the Urban League fosters economic empowerment through education and job training, housing and community development, workforce creation, entrepreneurship and health. “I think it’s really important to connect the dots between what I did in the city and here – and just keep it moving forward with even more progress,” Gaskin-Capehart said.
The University of South Florida graduate said the Urban League’s history attracted her to the position. Gaskin-Capehart noted that James O. Simmons, its first president and CEO, focused on preemployment initiatives and other issues in 1977 that are still relevant today.
“And I think it’s the perfect time for me to go and lead the organization into its next years of sustainable service,” she added.
In March 2022, Gaskin-Capehart launched The Network of Gifted Consultants (NGC Team). She also served as its CEO and led the Florida Girls Initiative – a statewide network created to help “at-promise” girls reach their potential – through its inaugural year.
Supporting small, minority and women-owned business development will remain a focus in her new role. Gaskin-Capehart also recognizes the need for economic mobility, affordable housing and increased educational opportunities.
She will formally begin leading the Urban League Friday, and Gaskin-Capehart said her “major” priority is long-term strategic planning. She also stressed the importance of community input.
“I want to make sure we hear from the community on what they feel the Urban League should be focused on going into 2030,” Gaskin-Capehart said. “We are here to be alongside of them and help make sure that they have all the empowerment they need to change their lives.”