Black History Month
History. Tradition. Community.
February is Black History Month.
Since 1926, and the creation of Negro History Week by Carter G. Woodson, the accomplishments of persons of African descent have been recognized each February. The Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights is proud to present Future History Makers, a profile series featuring emerging leaders from the Twin Cities African American community who share our ideals of advancing civil rights and removing barriers to equity. We also recognize the kinship of their work to those who are legacy trailblazers. Thus, in a brief question and answer profile, we uniquely celebrate both the past, present, and future.
Future History Maker
Future History Maker Chanda Smith Baker is an accomplished senior executive with a career record of providing business insight, transformational leadership, and strategic vision leading to strengthened operational performance, innovative solutions and high performing teams. To translate – Baker is a leader who gets things done.
Baker’s career began in early childhood education. A mother and entrepreneur, Baker was very involved in the at-home provider community. She managed her own daycare and supported other at-home providers in developing and sustaining their business. It was through this experience that Baker developed a passion for children and families.
Today, Baker serves as President and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities, responsible for 130 employees and the operations of five neighborhood centers, a training center and eight social enterprises. Baker says, “I was raised with an orientation of contributing to community as a way of life. As a young person I was always keenly aware of the challenges that my community faced. I grew up in North Minneapolis and I always felt very passionate about uplifting what’s best in the community while working to tackle the challenges.”
Baker leads with an unwavering focus on closing racial disparities and measuring outcomes—boldly pushing Pillsbury United Communities to become more focused, more creative, and to include the voice of community in its solutions that allow for the emergence of new ideas. In 2014, she led a planning process that resulted in a new strategic framework titled; “One Pillsbury, United – our plan for creating thriving communities.” This led to securing over $1 Million dollars to implement Pillsbury United Communities organizational strategies.
Recently Baker led Pillsbury United’s gun buy-back initiative where residents were urged to surrender firearms in exchange for Visa gift cards. The guns were decommissioned and given to Twin Cities’ artists to create statements about the impact of gun violence in the community. The buy-back initiative was an undisputed success and one in which Baker was personally invested. Baker says, “My cousin Kristopher Miller was shot and killed the same week I was named CEO of Pillsbury United. Last year was the fifth anniversary of his death. The buy-back program was a result of me taking something that affected me personally and looking for a way to make an impact on community violence.” Baker believes there are too many Minnesotans losing their lives to street violence, suicide, domestic violence and accidental shootings. She says, “I am not willing to look the other way, believing that there’s nothing we can do—but rather I’m committed to doing my part to make our community safer. We have a public health crisis with gun violence. It affects all of us, and we all must be part of the solution.”
In addition to her work with Pillsbury United Communities, Baker is a member of the boards of directors of the Greater Twin Cities United Way, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce, Public Allies National, the International Federation of Settlements, and CommonBond Communities. Baker sits on the national advisory board of the Carnegie Foundation’s Community Engagement Classification. She has received several recognitions including the Hubert H. Humphrey Leadership Award, and in 2012 she was a Minneapolis-St Paul Business Journal Diversity in Business honoree. Baker was recognized as a Hometown Hero in 2011 for her role leading the recovery efforts following a tornado in North Minneapolis.
Baker holds a Master of Arts – Organizational Management and Communications degree from Concordia University. She is also a graduate of MenTTium 100 Executive Leadership Program and the University of Michigan Ann Arbor’s Executive Leadership Institute.
Most Rewarding Work Experience
My most rewarding experience was receiving my masters from Concordia College. I went through this program while working and parenting, and this was not easy. Obtaining an advanced degree help propell my career and provided me with an opportunity to marry my lived experiences with formal training and technique.
What Inspires You
I am inspired by the success of others and my children of course.
Advice for Aspiring Professionals
My best advice is to invest in your own development. Embrace who you are as a leader, read, stay committed to professional development and support others success.
- Minneapolis, MN
Like Baker, today’s Legacy Leader I. Myrtle Carden, was a zealous community advocate committed to empowering children and families. When black families from St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood needed basic services or just a place to hang out, they turned to I. Myrtle Carden. Carden led the Hallie Q. Brown Community House, a social-service agency inspired by the era’s settlement house movement. Named after an Ohio educator who led the establishment of black women’s clubs across the country, Hallie Q. Brown soon became St. Paul’s second-largest neighborhood center.
Carden, a social worker from Pittsburgh, mentored a generation of young girls shut out from white school groups and social programs. Among other activities, teenage girls taught nutrition and home economics to other teens. Carden served as executive director of the Hallie Q Brown community Center for 20 years, from its founding in 1929 to 1949.
In Minneapolis, Carden’s ideological counterpart was W. Gertrude Brown, who ran the Phyllis Wheatley House, a magnet for famous guests such as Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, Marian Anderson and W.E.B. DuBois.