My birth name is Michelle Laurence Smith. I was born on October 5, 1972 at Cafritz Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. to the late Willie Smith, Jr. and Isabelle Laurence Hertz. I was raised in the Northwest section of Washington, D.C. and attended D.C. Public Schools (Alexander R. Shepherd Elementary and Takoma Middle School). I graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in 1990. I have one sister and one brother.
In the early 1990s, I attended a medical program and graduated in 1992. I had my first daughter in 1991, was married in 1996 and had two more children, a daughter in 1997 and a son in the year 2000. I worked in the medical field for several years before going back to college for another degree. I attended Anne Arundel Community College and received an Associate’s Degree in Allied Health Sciences in 2002 which placed me in an administrative field. After that, I then continued to work and contracted with other employers. While working with a consulting firm, I was asked to take on a more challenging role in policy because the incumbent had left her position permanently. By default, this is how I began my career in the FOIA/PA.
In the summer of 2003, I woke up one day and decided that I was going back to school. I applied and was accepted into Howard University in Washington, D.C. I entered as a freshman in August of 2004 and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications in 2007. I continued my studies at Howard and attended graduate school earning a Master of Arts degree in United States History with a concentration in Foreign Relations in December 2008. I managed all of this while taking care of my children and going through a divorce. From this point on, I worked extremely hard, learning a plethora of information pertaining to the FOIA and Privacy Act as well as the associated case laws. My experiences include handling FOIA/PA related work at the U.S. Department of Justice, Veteran’s Administration, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of State.
My Paternal Family
My father, the late Willie Smith, Jr., was a black man who was born on May 3, 1935 and raised in Clairton, Pennsylvania, a small town just outside of Pittsburgh. This town was known for its steel mills. He was one of nine children born to the late Willie Smith, Sr. and Mildred Johnson Smith, my grandparents. During his teenage years, my father worked in the steel mill. At age 15, he joined the United States Air Force and fought during the Korean War Conflict from 1950-1953. Jim Crow went with him to Korea in the beginning of the war and then Jim Crow was no longer an issue once the Department of Defense realized that black soldiers were being underutilized because of racial prejudice. This movement led to new opportunities for black soldiers serving in the Korean War including the ending of segregation two years before the Korean War ended. After being honorably discharged from the military, my father attended Howard University and completed his undergraduate studies. He then attended Howard’s School of Law and graduated in 1968 with a juris doctorate. In addition, he graduated with Washington, DC’s former mayor, Sharon Pratt Dixon. Shortly thereafter, my father fell in love with my mother and married her in 1972. Soon after that, my father worked for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and retired from federal service in 1991. He died on October 18, 2006. He was 71 years old.
My paternal grandparents were born and raised in Cheraw, South Carolina in Chesterfield County. Cheraw is a Cherokee town and the birthplace of the famous jazz musician, Dizzy Gillespie. My grandfather, Willie Smith, Sr., was born in 1911 and my grandmother, Mildred Johnson Smith, was born in 1909 (according to the census records).
My grandfather’s parents were Preston Dan Smith, born in 1880 and Ola Mae Sellers, born in 1884 in Cheraw, South Carolina in Chesterfield County. Preston was a white man. Ola Mae was of African and Native American Indian descent, Cherokee in particular. They were speaking, reading and writing English according to the census records. If I am correct, I believe that I have located them on the 12th and 14th Census of the United States which was the 1900 and 1920 Federal Census. My grandfather’s parents were farmers. However, there is a conflict with who was actually my great grandfather’s wife. I am not sure if Ola Mae died and then he Married Viola Smith because the 1920 Census Record shows that my great grandfather was married to Viola. Also, there is a large population of Sellers in my family. My father told me about his grandmother, Ola Mae Sellers, before he died. After conducting more research, I located records from the 1900 Federal Census. Ola Mae’s parents were Raford Sellers and Della Sellers. I don’t know anything else about my grandfather’s parents.
My grandmother’s parents were Frank Johnson, born in 1875, and Sallie Leake Johnson born in 1875. They were also raised in Cheraw, South Carolina in Chesterfield County and they were of European, African and Native American Indian descent, Cherokee in particular. They both worked as farmers and my great grandmother did house cleaning jobs. My grandmother was one of six children from this union. Everyone was speaking, reading and writing English according to the census records.
In addition, I was able to locate my grandmother’s parents on the 1910 and 1930 Census which was the 13th and 15th Census of the United States. While many of my family members have had the opportunity to meet my grandmother’s siblings, I never had the opportunity to do so. I was born as a second generation of 1st cousins. In other words, several of my father’s siblings first had their children during the 1950s. I was born in 1972 and many of my 1st cousins were already at the ages of 19 and 20 by the time that I was born. Also, my 1st cousin Debra, who is my father’s niece, told me that she met my great Aunt Anna and my great Uncle Baxley. Many of my other 1st cousins had already met my great Aunt Anna.
My grandfather, Willie Smith, Sr., died in 1979 from a stroke at age 68. My grandmother, Mildred, died in 1991 of natural causes at age 82. Also, out of the nine children that came from this union, only one is still living and that is my Aunt Edna Mae. She is one of the most wonderful people that I have ever known. I am delighted to have her as my "Auntie."
My Maternal Family
My mother, Isabelle Laurence Hertz, was born on August 31, 1953 to the late Marie Hansen and Emile Hertz. My mother was born and raised in the town of Quiévrechain, in the district of Valenciennes, in the Nord-pas-de-Calais region of France until age 4. This is the northern most region of France and is one of 27 regions in the country. My mother speaks French and English.
My grandmother, Marie, was born in 1932 and raised in France. She spoke French and English. She had two sisters and one brother. My grandmother’s parents were born and raised in Poland. They left Poland during the 1920s and made their home in France. The family name is Tesarsz. I have no idea how my great grandparents managed their long journey to France in the 1920s especially during all the turmoil and tensions between Poland and its neighboring countries, Germany and the Soviet Union.
I don’t know much about my maternal great grandparents’ history. I made an attempt to locate records regarding their lives and I was informed that those records were most likely destroyed during Adolph Hitler’s reign. However, I did meet them at my mother’s family reunion when I was nine years old. The family gathering occurred at my grandmother’s home in Tucson, Arizona somewhere around 1981.
When my grandmother became of age, she traveled extensively to many different countries around the world before making her home here in the United States. During her journeys, she met and married my grandfather, Emile Hertz. My mother was the only child from this union. My grandfather was born and raised in Guatemala, a small country located in Central America. Its neighboring countries are Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador. My grandfather spoke Spanish. I don’t have any additional information about my grandfather except that he and my grandmother went on with their separate lives. At some point, he married a native woman from his homeland. He had other children as well and I have never met them or my grandfather. He died when I was still a young girl.
Eventually, my grandmother settled in Tucson, AZ where she owned her own businesses. My grandmother was a wealthy woman and extremely business minded. While my mother was growing up, she and my grandmother traveled to many different countries around the world including Greece, Turkey, the Mediterranean, several different tropical islands and to Italy and many other places. My grandmother enjoyed traveling and seeing the world. She also married a man named Howard Hansen and spent the rest of her life with him. I’ve actually seen my grandmother a few times in my life. Also, at every Christmas holiday until I became a teenager, my grandmother sent my sister and I lots of presents including toys and clothes. She spoiled us very well and I never forgot that.
When my mother became of age, she did some traveling of her own and ended up in Washington, D.C., where she met my father, Willie Smith, Jr. She instantly fell in love and married him in 1972. During the 1970s after my sister and I were born, my mother attended college and worked at the Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, my mother was not employed at PEPCO long. Once her manager became aware that she was married to a black man, she was terminated. After my brother was born, my mother worked for and retired from D.C. Government in the late 1990s.
Currently, my mother is enjoying retirement and travelling. As for myself, I travel to other countries as often as I can. It brings me great joy to visit, learn and interact with people from other cultures. The enlightenment and knowledge that I gain from learning and understanding how other people live, eat, work and learn is priceless.
My favorite hobbies are traveling, swimming, gardening, writing and attending live music concerts. I enjoy all types of music and have a good ear for sound. I play the drums and congas. In addition, I look forward to dining out at least twice each week in fine restaurants. My favorite cuisines are French, Caribbean, East Indian, Japanese and Italian. I love good food.
Furthermore, I worked part time as a radio personality under the name of Gogo Michelle a few years back. Currently, I still produce radio ad commercials for clients. I record, mix and master using the beloved ProTools software and WAVES Diamond Bundle plugins. In addition, I have two copyrighted and professionally designed underground hip hop/rap albums that are in the public domain. Lastly, I exercise, work hard in my career and enjoy spending time with my grown children, grandchildren and extended family.