Remembering Michael Hulshof-Schmidt
December 10, 1966 – January 30, 2021
Born in Cleveland in 1966, Michael spent his early years in Ohio and Texas. He, his mother, two younger brothers, and his adoptive father eventually settled in Nashville, where the family took up residence not too far from luminaries like Dolly Parton, whom Michael used to see walking out to collect her mail. In fact, legend has it that Gentleman Jim Reeves’ plane had gone down right in the vicinity of the Schmidt’s backyard, giving teenage Michael a little pause as he’d wander the grounds, unsure of what he’d find. This close proximity to the world of country music led Michael eventually to take a position at the Country Music Hall of Fame, where he always maintained that he was among the most popular tour guides in its history, recounting the stories of the musicians’ lives with his own distinct brand of humor.
Though it’s impossible to believe he was in college 35 years ago since he was still only in his 30s last year, Michael began college at Lambuth University in 1985 before moving to Atlanta in 1987 to attend Oglethorpe University. He earned his BA in English in 1989 and stayed on as the residence hall director until 1991. His friends from that era (who are also stunningly young) can’t think of him without smiling. Unafraid to challenge his professors or peers when he thought they were being narrow-minded or rigid, he was also eager to support faculty and students who needed his encouragement, whether academically or emotionally. He was part of a tight-knit group of friends but also warm and welcoming to everyone, always up to drive friends to a late-night dinner out at the Peachtree Street IHOP, a Carly Simon cassette playing all the way there. He also created many delicious, home-cooked meals in his tiny campus kitchen, serving dinner with candles flickering on the table. Even at this early stage of life, when many people are still figuring out their own identities, Michael was committed to social justice work; queer students and students of color, especially, knew they could count on Michael to be a supportive friend and advocate. Michael nourished people, body and soul, in so many ways, whether with a sundae, a book pressed into your hands, a deep conversation, or a shoulder to lean (and maybe cry) on. And just when the seriousness might seem too much, he’d lighten the mood with one of his patented, faux-acerbic jabs. Anyone at the receiving end of one of these volleys knew that they were indeed loved.
After Oglethorpe, Michael spent two years in Chicago earning his MA in English and Women’s Studies from DePaul University before returning to Atlanta. Over the next decade or so, Michael worked tirelessly (while wearing a wide variety of turtlenecks and blazers) to cultivate the friendships and communities that were so central to his life. He worked for a time at the Ridgeview Institute, an addiction/behavioral health hospital in Atlanta. There he cultivated some of the closest friendships of his post-collegiate life with other staff members, and would often reflect fondly on his time there, recalling both comic and sometimes-harrowing adventures. After a variety of jobs teaching students with various learning challenges, Michael became one of the founding faculty of the Atlanta Girls School in 2000. As a teacher at AGS, Michael threw himself into a program designed to build girls’ self-esteem and academic excellence by connecting them to each other and to feminist principles. A fierce feminist himself, Michael found his calling not in shaping other people’s lives but in helping them shape their own. One of his AGS students recalls, “He never let me take the easy way out, he gave me a safe place for me to be me, and he never let me forget how amazing it was to be a woman. He loved his students so much.” Many of his students from that era still count him among their most formative influences.
Michael met the love of his life, Robert, in Atlanta in 1999, and the two built a loving home together. A joyful wedding in March 2002 brought together friends and family to celebrate, and they recommitted to one another in 2014 in the age of marriage equality. But no ceremony or piece of paper was necessary to show the world how much Michael and Robert loved and cared for one another (and for their coterie of feline landlords). They readily welcomed friends into their home, often with a stiff drink (which somehow turned into five or six) and an elegant, decadent meal. Though Michael and Robert’s departure for Oregon in 2005 was a hard pill for their Atlanta community to swallow, friends knew the couple would create a new community in the Northwest while still staying connected to their friends in the Southeast. It was time to share the love with folks out west.
Michael and Robert moved briefly to Robert’s hometown, Albany, before settling in SW Portland where they served bottomless martinis and laughs. Michael served as the Director of Middle School at Portland Jewish Academy and was Founding Head of School at the soon-to-be opened International High School of Portland. Unfortunately, the economic downturn meant the school was never able to open.
Fortunately, it led Michael’s renaissance. In addition to studying for his Master’s in Social Work program at Portland State, he launched his consultancy, EqualityWorks NW, and began penning his popular blog Social Justice For All where he provided meaningful social commentary in witty, insightful, personal writing about a range of social justice topics and current events.
As a fierce advocate for social change with a kind and generous heart, Michael was always attuned to both individual experience and the larger socio-political context so pursuing a Master’s in Social Work was an obvious choice for him. One of Michael’s MSW classmates from his graduate program at Portland State University shared his significant impact on their cohort: “SW Class of 2013 was deeply informed by Michael’s presence in our classes, discussions, gatherings, and study groups. Michael’s embodiment of fierce love, his contagious laugh, and his ever-present critical analysis was integral in the formation of my belief that Social Work must be simultaneously honest/critical/hilarious and transformative.”
Michael started teaching at Portland State University in the School of Social Work in 2013.
As an instructor, his passion for social justice, talent for teaching, and care for students was a true gift to the School while his humor, brilliance, and mentorship was a light for students and faculty alike. Michael’s love of his work was palpable and, similar to his time at AGS, Michael’s PSU students often recall their classes with him as amongst the most formative in their education. As one colleague reflected: “I’m still striving to create the kind of community Michael built in his classrooms, and everywhere he went. His humor, generosity, and capacity to be present with someone were remarkable gifts.” In his time at PSU, Michael touched countless lives (of both students and faculty/staff) and built deep, long-lasting friendships.
In 2015, Michael turned his focus solely to his consulting business, EqualityWorks, NW, focusing all of his training and coaching efforts on racial equity, anti-oppression, gender justice, and helping organizations do their work with a stronger social justice lens. In doing so, Michael also shared his brilliance, humor, and sharp analysis as a trainer, organizational consultant and keynote speaker to numerous groups around the state of Oregon. One of his clients in southern Oregon, where he built a special reputation and community, summed up his approach: “You allowed us to sit in knowledge while creating a safe environment where individuals could go at their own pace while digesting your wonderful humor. We were in admiration of how capable you are in holding space for others to feel safe. I applaud your gift and dedication to the freeing of oppression through knowledge and deep love.”
Throughout the past four years, Michael’s battle with cancer and overall health never slowed down his passion for social justice or his wicked sense of humor. He would offer you the food in his cupboards, and then accuse you of stealing his fine silver. He accumulated friends with his empathy and kindness. We are all better people for being part of his world.
Michael was dedicated to social justice causes near and far. Please consider remembering him with a donation to one of his favorite charities:
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