Imani-Frances Smith served in the federal government from 1975 – 1996. (Courtesy Photo)

Imani-Frances Smith was dedicated to serve and excel in the United States government, even though it was through a racist and sexist system. It didn’t matter that she was frequently overlooked as the smallest federal officer in the room. Nor did it bother her that she was often one of the only women of color. Smith knew she was going to become one of the nation’s highest ranking officers in her time.

History shows she was right.

Smith, or “Mama Imani” as many in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia areas call her, served in two federal agencies, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Search Results and the  U.S. Customs and Border Protection, from 1975 – 1996.  She worked for several offices and agencies, but had her longest tour of duty working at the U.S. Department of Justice. As a federal officer she went through several tests, certifications, and evaluations, and earned numerous accolades. She held various titles and rankings throughout her career including marksman, adjudicator, customs officer, and inspector. Upon to early retirement, due to illness, Smith’s badges were retired by the Commissioner of Immigration Services.

Smith helped immigrant orphans find families in the United States, and aided refugees from several African countries during Apartheid, including Sierra Leone and South Africa. To their surprise, Smith’s face was one of compassion, often the first that refugees had seen in a long time. She said she helped them through the naturalization process, and was proud to do so. They”truly believed in the American dream,” Smith said.

She also saw herself in them. “I’m a Black person, I don’t like to use the term African American. I’m old school. We say Black,” Smith said.

While Smith was helping African refugees find asylum from prejudice and persecution, she experienced it herself. As an officer, she was often sent to very racially divided areas of the country. Blacks weren’t always welcome, and neither were women. Smith went anyway. And, because she did, we can all learn from her story today. “I was little, and I had to learn how to take down a man. It was difficult, but I did it. And once I did, I was able to get respect,” she said.

Many people have been touched by Smith’s work. Rows of pictures and awards are evidence of this. She has received letters and proclamations from many high-profile politicians, local leaders, and celebrities. Former Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry, former Maryland State Sen. Arthur Dunman, and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski are just a few.

Her son, known by the rest of the world as Grammy-nominated singer and philanthropist Raheem DeVauhgn, has been touched by her work. Smith said he is one of her proudest achievements. Not only is she proud of him, he is proud of her.

“My mother is the source of my strength,” DeVauhgn told the AFRO on Feb. 19. “She is my SHE-RO. I admire her for so many reasons, especially for the sacrifices she made for me. My mother is valued, loved, and appreciated. I am so proud of her.”