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Urban League’s new vision promotes generational success

Mark Parker



The Pinellas County Urban League and its new leader, Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, hosted a formal ball Friday night for area students at the Enoch Davis Center. Photos by Mark Parker.

The Pinellas County Urban League’s new leader has a fresh plan to help African Americans and underserved communities fulfill their potential through economic self-reliance and the power of ownership.

In September 2023, Nikki Gaskin-Capehart became the local affiliate’s first female president and CEO in its 46-year history. The organization recently unveiled its Vision 2030 plan, which she called a “whole new approach” to empowering people and changing lives.

The initiative’s pillars include fostering education and community leadership, job training and entrepreneurship, housing and community development and physical, mental and financial health. Gaskin-Capehart – a self-described “leadership junkie” who succeeded the late Rev. Watson L. Haynes II – stressed the importance of succession planning.

“We want to be really intentional about how we can prepare the next generation for opportunities so that we don’t have gaps in leadership from every sector of the community,” Gaskin-Capehart said. “So, we’re talking about corporate succession planning, particularly among the Black community. Political, nonprofit – every area.”

As an intergenerational leader, Gaskin-Capehart said connecting various age groups around a cohesive progression plan is a priority. She plans to train three potential successors for her role in the coming years.

The Urban League will prepare local youth to climb corporate and educational ladders from elementary school through college. Gaskin-Capehart is now implementing an internship program with area post-secondary educational institutions.

She served as St. Petersburg’s director of urban affairs under former Mayor Rick Kriseman. One of Gaskin-Capehart’s highlights with the city was establishing the “My Sister’s Keeper” fellowship program.

She said it provided a doctorate-level educational curriculum that promoted personal and professional development. “And that’s the type of thing we’re bringing back with our … EmpowerHer movement,” Gaskin-Capehart added. “That’s the kind of stuff that Vision 2030 is letting us do.”

The Next Level Urban Alliance is also part of the strategic plan. Gaskin-Capehart described it as a business accelerator and association that expounds on a chamber of commerce’s functions.

She said participating entrepreneurs will receive individualized training from program navigators. They can also utilize coworking space in the Urban League’s headquarters at 333 31st St. N. in St. Petersburg.

In addition, Gaskin-Capehart said participants receive assistance with accounting and marketing software. The organization’s Entrepreneurship Center houses the Alliance and its Small Business Academy, which receives funding from the national Urban League.

Gaskin-Capehart repeatedly stressed that ownership is critical to building generational wealth. It is also vital to establishing a sustainable social enterprise – one of Vision 2030’s “guiding themes.”

Most nonprofits rely on grant funding. However, Gaskin-Capehart noted that some have capitalized on mixed-use development opportunities.

“Many of them (nonprofits) are affordable housing providers and also have some commercial space,” she said. “We own our Urban League site. So, we have the opportunity to really do something with our site that will allow us to have long-term residual income.”

From left: Vonda Ford, senior director of finance & administration; Nikki Gaskin-Capehart, president and CEO; Michael Boykins, director of youth and family services; and Lalita Green.

Gasking-Capehart said the organization’s governing board is receptive to redeveloping the property. That could include “micro or affordable housing” and street-level commercial space.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor recently secured $81,130 in federal funding for the Urban League to update its technological infrastructure. Gaskin-Capehart said the nonprofit is also updating its website and creating a mobile application to increase service access.

Changing people’s perception of the Urban League is another priority. Gaskin-Capehart said Vision 2030 would transform the organization’s focus from primarily providing social services to fostering economic and community development.

“That’s the way we are able to sustain the movement that we want to see in the community,” she explained. “We might meet somebody at a certain level of need, but by the time they transition to all that we have to offer them, they might come out of that pipeline owning a business, having two or three promotions at work, having their youth be a part of our programming and then going away to college or getting a good certification – a whole family transformation happens when you look at it that way.”

Gaskin-Capehart is also expanding quality-of-life programming. The Urban League’s new 90-minute “Workout Wednesday” events include a fitness class, a healthy cooking demonstration and a financial empowerment “mini-session.”

The North Greenwood Recreation Center in Clearwater will host the next Workout Wednesday event. Gaskin-Capehart said expanding the Urban League’s presence in north Pinellas County is a focal point.

“This is what I was born to do,” she said. “I know how heavy of a lift it is to do this type of work and do it authentically, genuinely and effectively. So, there’s a level of responsibility.”

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  1. Avatar

    Gregory Johnson

    March 23, 2024at11:13 am

    Fantastic Mission and Purpose Driven agenda, Ms. Capehart and TEAM. I am a bit biased BUT honest in echoing the Pinellas County Urban League is the BEST Urban League Affiliate in the network and the BEST nonprofit in the Pinellas County/St. Pete/Tampa region.
    I miss being near to assist and will forever love the people of St. Pete.

  2. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    March 18, 2024at7:49 pm

    Way to Go Nikki!!!!! I am so very proud of you and the direction in which you are taking the organization. Change is beneficial for the community that you serve. Keep it Going, please.

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