Dr. Teresa Smallwood served as the Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate Director of Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative at Vanderbilt Divinity School from 2017 to 2021. Since 2021 she has the honor of serving as the James Franklin Kelly and Hope Eyster Kelly Associate Professor of Public Theology at United Lutheran Seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. She was born and raised in Windsor, North Carolina, in a rural community with her mother and father. She grew up Baptist in a community that leaned into the idea that the village raised the child.
When it came to education, she was discouraged from pursuing higher education despite her big dreams for herself. Despite this setback, Smallwood pushed forward and continued to be involved in school and extracurricular activities. In 1978, she graduated from high school and enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). She obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Speech Communications and Afro-American Studies from UNC-CH and went on to obtain her Juris Doctorate from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 1985.
Smallwood began her career as a public interest lawyer in Charlotte before moving to the Children’s Law Center of North Carolina and eventually becoming the assistant district attorney when her mother developed Alzheimer’s. During the aftermath of a disastrous flood in Princeville, North Carolina, Smallwood’s law firm had gone underwater in the literal sense. Smallwood was not finished with her pursuit of higher education and decided to attend Howard University in 2011 where she would meet Dr. Alton Pollard, III. He introduced her to influential writers such as Audre Lorde, and Katie Cannon. Smallwood quotes the latter when reflecting on how her faith has influenced her personhood saying that her time in Howard was “ the work her soul needed”.
Smallwood considers her faith to be instrumental in influencing her understanding of self and her understanding of her destiny. During a time when she felt she had no skills outside of practicing law, she attributes her belief in God as what led her towards theology and the subsequent journey through that. While attending Chicago Theological Seminary in 2010 for her Ph.D., Smallwood was granted exposure to more of the LGBTQIA community. Upon reflection, she realized that she had grown up amongst LGBTQIA folks her entire life, but only as an adult was she able to situate them in the theo-philosophical contextuality that fuels her scholarship.
Smallwood considers her greatest accomplishment to be her ability to overcome obstacles and the knowledge that even failure is something that can be overcome. As for her struggles, Smallwood has taken into account how they have shifted over the years. In her youth, the struggles came in the form of questions about who she was and how she lived out her unique identity. As she grew older, the questions shifted towards what she contributed to her community and now she is struggling through answering the question of what she has done over the course of her lifetime. Despite the existential nature of these questions, Smallwood has found that her experiences have ultimately shaped and broadened her perception of what she calls “the mosaic called God”.
During her time at Vanderbilt, Smallwood contributed to her student’s participation in conferences that would broaden the scope of their education. Most recently she wrote a grant that brought in $400,000 towards more collaboration with other funded grantees of the Henry Luce Foundation. She abides by the thought that ministry is not something that is relegated to Sundays, instead seeing it as something that happens on a daily basis through common interactions. It is this way of thinking that has propelled her to seek out ways to better equip preachers to handle those who misuse the Gospel and imbue it with hate speech and ignorance instead of the love that is required of all of us.
(This biographical statement was written by Dorya Mason from an interview with Teresa Smallwood and edited by Smallwood.)
Biography Date: August 2023
Baptist | Black | Theology
“Dr. Teresa Smallwood | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed December 06, 2023, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/teresa-smallwood.