TGR: From Brookfield & Whitelock to BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport, CEO Ricky D. Smith Continues Legacy Building

“With a closed hand, nothing gets in and nothing gets out. With an open hand, however, there are endless possibilities.
The moral to the story is to help somebody.”
– Donald E. Glover

By Doni Glover, Publisher

(BWI-THURGOOD MARSHALL AIRPORT – May 14, 2019) – Part of success, I think, is being a blessing to others. Although mankind is so often wrapped up in self-interests, it takes that bold one to look around at the conditions of those around them, including complete strangers. It’s easy to act like we don’t see somebody struggling. Now, what are we going to do about it?

In the mid-90s while I was in the middle of finishing my Bachelor’s degree at Coppin, I earned a scholarship from Household Finance. The presenter of the award was an attorney named N. Scott Phillips. I soon learned that in addition to being a lawyer, he was also a founding member of Black Professional Men, Inc. Phillips even invited me out to a meeting.

And that’s where I first met Ricky D. Smith, who is now on his second tour of duty as the CEO of BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport.

That’s right! A black man (who is exceptionally qualified) runs the airport!

I don’t know about you, but given the struggles and challenges constantly in the face of African Americans merely because of our skin color – I am amazed every time I think of Smith.

It’s almost like it was not supposed to happen.

After all, this is Maryland, a former slave state. This is a state that has more than its share of racism and hatred. One doesn’t have to go back to the days of slavery to revisit such disdain. We have seen modern day lynchings. We experienced what happens when “another black man” dies while in police custody. We have seen our community on fire.

Then again, considering the mentorship Smith received from the likes of the late great Raymond V. Haysbert, Sr., I am not the least bit surprised at Smith’s success. Haysbert was one of the first African American business people to do business at BWI. Haybert also encouraged his business students and mentees to do the same.

Ricky Smith is a proud product of West Baltimore. Where he grew up, many of his gender and ethnicity do not make it out unscathed. Seeing a dope needle, for instance, doesn’t faze him. And although he has lost many friends over the years, he remains a beacon of hope.

When you see him at the airport and other events, his demeanor is always cool, calm, and collective. He deals with people from the coffee shop to security to multinational corporations. And he respects them all the same.

Over the past 20 plus years, I have personally seen Smith help a lot of people, especially entrepreneurs and small business owners seeking to set up shop at the airport.

BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport is the perfect backdrop for this well-accomplished young man from Brookfield and Whitelock. No, it wasn’t his jump shot or his musical skills that gave him that leap. It was hard work. It was staying away from trouble. And so, as he still mentors people from similar conditions today, we may know that he has never ever forgotten where he’s from.

For whatever reasons, he knows that he must give back – and not just to black folks – but to all folks. I have seen so many people smile in his presence. I have seen entrepreneurs’ lives changed for the better because of Smith and his dynamic team, probably because he gets it. He clearly understands his purpose in life and he lives it definitively every single day.

I actually think he got a lot of skills from the basketball court. I think that’s where his leadership skills took root. Every year, his basketball team from John Eager Howard had the daunting task of representing West Baltimore in East Baltimore. John Eager Howard Recreation Center, few would disagree, had the best team typically on the Westside. Now, rarely if ever did they beat the Eastside legends – but if anybody had a chance, it was John Eager Howard. In the community, that rec’s basketball teams stood head and shoulders over others.

I’m not sure how far Smith went in basketball, but I can tell you that like every kid from West Baltimore who wants to be something great – Ricky D. Smith has accomplished that goal well. Two different Maryland governors recognized his work and put him in charge of one of America’s most significant airports. He has also been the boss in Cleveland.

That’s a lot of respect for Smith, a man that knows that nothing is given to you in this world. However, if you do your best, outwork the guy or gal beside you, go home and practice, burn the midnight coal when others are sleep, and be willing to go above and beyond even when you think you can’t, then you, too, can be a winner.

I am also reminded that no matter what darkness one has encountered, we must all keep the faith and persevere anyway – no matter what! Maybe you don’t beat your key rival from your youth. Maybe a marriage didn’t work out. Maybe you didn’t get the position you thought you deserved, even though you worked your butt off. Maybe that first business decision flopped. So what? Ricky could have given up and been a quitter. Or, he could have become CEO and never gave a rat’s bottom about new entrepreneurs who just might succeed if somebody gave them a little push – that first opportunity. If only somebody believed in them …

Thanks, Ricky, for never forgetting others!