Highlighting Dr. Smith- Women's History Month
Updated: Mar 21
During Women's History Month, I have invited several women who have been formative in my life to share about their journey and callings. As you learn about these women, I hope you are inspired and challenged.
Dr. Mitzi Smith was a person I heard about, long before I ever met. She was a professor at the seminary where I was completing my graduate education. Word was, she was a tough professor, one of the toughest, if not the toughest. I was pretty intimidated when I sat down in my first class with her. Those feelings of intimidation decreased, but never went away, and I'd say in a good way. Dr. Smith challenged and helped shape and form an understanding and perspective of God that I had never considered. I will never forget a comment she gave on one of my exegesis draft papers, "This doesn't make sense." :) She has one of the best laugh's in this world.
She graciously agreed to answer 5 questions:
1. Would you share a bit about who you are; where you live, how you spend your
days, your work, volunteering, your family makeup, your race, cultural
background, faith context, pets, etc? (whatever you feel comfortable sharing)
I currently live in Decatur, Georgia, where I teach at Columbia Theological Seminary as the J. Davison Philips Professor of New Testament. I am an African American, cis-gendered woman, and I see myself as a progressive Christian. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio with my three siblings and my mother, Flora O. Carson Smith (1929-2009). My brother died two Thanksgivings ago; I miss him and my mother a lot. I spend my days attending institutional meetings, teaching, preparing to teach, writing, meeting with students, walking (sometimes around Stone Mountain), exercising with free weights etc, traveling, presenting papers/lectures, painting (something I need to do more), chatting with family, colleagues and friends. I have volunteered with Big Brother Big Sister, but I was hoping to be a mentor to junior high or high school students through the Decatur Education Foundation (still waiting—the pandemic disrupted the facilitation of a match, but I completed the process and am still waiting). I have no pets.
2. Who is one or several women in your life who inspired you, and how did they influence you?
Definitely, my mother inspired me most. Again, I miss her dearly. She told me I should go and get a PhD before I imagined it for myself. My mom was always supportive. She exhibited amazing resilience and hope. My mother loved people unconditionally and was very intelligent. She was a gifted pianist and singer, but she struggled with illnesses from childhood through her final days.
3. Would you share about a time when your way/path was blocked or hampered because of your gender, and how you navigated this?
Where to begin?! Well, when I completed my BA in Theology from what was then Columbia Union College, Takoma Park, MD, an Adventist college, no one was interested in hiring me in ministry within the church. In fact, a white woman who graduated with her BA in Theology a year before me was offered a secretarial job within the institutional church. Typically, men in the Seventh-day Adventist Church would receive a call to pastor a church after earning a BA in Theology. I did not. So, I accepted a scholarship to The Ohio State University to earn a BA in Black Studies. It really was a turning point in my life. I guess I kept it moving; I was resilient.
In the long run, I did not let the church’s rejection be the final word. It is not God. As a result of constant rejection by the SDA church, when I finally decided to pursue a MDiv, I resolved to attend Howard University School of Divinity (HUSD), rather than the Adventist university in Michigan. It was at HUSD that I was encouraged in my second year to think about pursuing a PhD, which also set me walking in a path my mother had imagined for me years earlier.
4. Was there an implicit or explicit message about being a woman that significantly formed you that you would like to share?
I think just watching my mother, a woman separated from her husband until his death and raising her four children. She didn’t talk a lot about gendered roles. In fact, I don’t ever remember her rehearsing the gendered roles that patriarchy insists upon. The only time she spoke of the limitation of women was when I was struggling with my call to ministry. I asked her if she thought women should be ordained to pastoral ministry. She said that she was raised to believe that women should only preach if there is no man present.
Yet, my mother never tried to limit me and supported my call unconditionally; she was so proud when I preached. She’d often shared how her grandmother Flora Jane––who raised my mother and her sister Nellie (the two oldest of four small children) after their mother died––was so capable and transgressed normalized (my language not hers) gender roles and expectations (e.g., who makes more and takes care of the finances) so that they could live a better quality of life.
5. Is there a business, project, book, passion, non-profit or the like that you would like to highlight and share with others? *Please feel free to highlight your own!!
Thank you for this because we rely primarily on word-of-mouth (which is slow) and typically must do our own marketing. Please listen to, and share if you find it useful, my podcast Beyond the Womanist Classroom. It is available on buzzsprout.com, Spotify, Amazon, Apple, iHeart or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Also please, check out my latest books on Amazon or from other book sellers:
Bitter the Chastening Rod: Africana Biblical Interpretation after Stony the Road We Trod in the Age of BLM, SayHerName and MeToo (Lexington Books, 2022)
We are All Witnesses: Toward Disruptive and Creative Biblical Interpretation with Michael Newheart (Cascade Books, 2023)
Chloe and Her People: A Womanist Critical Dialogue with First Corinthians (Cascade, 2023, forthcoming within weeks).
Also visit my website at www.mitzijsmith.net