By the time Susan Smith was 3 years old, her father, Dr. Francis Smith, now an orthopedic surgeon, had moved his family from a small house in Northeast to a spacious home near Rock Creek Park, in Northwest's upper-middle-class "Gold Coast."
"When we first moved into the neighborhood," recalled the 18-year-old Smith, "there were no blacks. We were the first. There are quite a few blacks out here now. I feel very advantaged living where I live and being in the family I'm in.
"My parents let me know early that I had to go for myself. Both of my parents are native Washingtonians and they both came from poor families. They told me, 'Yes, we have money and a nice home, but you're going to have to make it on your own.' "
Smith, who said her mother is her best friend, added that her parents' philosophy of rearing children encouraged her to look at the world in terms of "how can I make it work for me" early in life. Her three older sisters, who are pursuing careers in art, law and accounting, served as her role models. Smith has four sisters, ages 13, 22, 23 and 24.
"The best part of growing up here is that you're living in the nation's capital. There are a lot of historical landmarks. You have your downtown concrete jungle, but you also have the park, where you can relax. Everything is in one little, small area.
"The worst part is the taxes. Trying to live in D.C., trying to buy a house or rent an apartment, is rough. We have one of the highest costs of living. I'm afraid to move out of the house, even though I do have a nice-paying job."
Smith works in public relations for Michael K. Lewis Enterprise Inc., a financial planning corporation. She attended an array of Catholic and public schools, graduated from Emerson Preparatory Institute in Northwest in 1979 and enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia.
"I went to UDC because I got out of school so early. I wasn't ready to go away to college," she said. But "I found that going to UDC was like going back to junior high."
She enrolled in computer training, but shortly after she completed the course, she went to work for Michael K. Lewis.
Smith sees some problems in the District. "There's a lot of prejudice still here in Washington. You run up against it every now and then, but there's a way to get around it. Being black, you grow up learning to accept things as they are. I think that's wrong. Blacks are afraid to step up and speak up about injustice because everyone who's tried has gotten assassinated or killed. So many of us are afraid to stand up for our rights. That's why this city is being taken away from us right before our eyes. Downtown is going to be one big condominium owned by whites. Blacks have been here for so long, but it looks like we don't own anything."
Drugs represent the biggest problem confronting youths growing up in the District, Smith said. "Kids at such young ages are able to get drugs anytime and anyplace. That's something we need to straighten out."