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By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
From her office window, Rev. Leah Gunning Francis has a bird’s eye view of a city that motivates and inspires her. She began the New Year in her role as Senior Vice President and Chief Missions & Values Officer of IU Health.
She previously served as Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Christian Theological Seminary. She has made numerous community connections as a guest lecturer, author, preacher and workshop facilitator. She hopes to build on those connections as she joins IU Health’s efforts to make Indiana a healthier state.
Gunning Francis earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Hampton University (Hampton,Va.); a Master of Divinity degree from Candler School of Theology at Emory University (Atlanta,Ga.); and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (Evanston, Ill.). A native of Willingboro, NJ, Gunning Francis is married to Rodney Francis. They are the parents of two teenage sons.
Her office bookcase is filled with titles that include: “Believe: The Words of Inspiration” by Desmond Tutu; “Crisis in the Village,” by Robert Franklin, “The Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen, and The Holy Bible. All are titles that align with her role overseeing the Fairbanks Center for Medical Ethics, and IU Health Chaplaincy & Spiritual Care. She is also focusing on engaging colleagues more deeply in IU Health’s Mission and Values.
Gunning Francis has also authored two books of her own related to clergy involvement after the 2014 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.: “Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community,” and “Faith after Ferguson: Resilient Leadership and in Pursuit of Racial Justice.”
In her new role , she bridges her administrative, scholarly, and pastoral experience to support a holistic approach to the care and well-being of Hoosiers. Here are her thoughts:
Q: What is important to you in your role with IU Health?
A: As a resident of Indiana and someone who is deeply concerned about the needs of people, I am honored to join the efforts to think boldly and creatively about how we can make Indiana a healthier state. Looking at economic, educational, racial and ethnic disparities, are all part of what it means to live a healthy and thriving life and how we can impact that.
Q: When you look at mainstream America and all the tragedy, what would you say are the pillars that impact racial disparities?
A: The first task is to stand in our truth - the truth about our shared history and the long-term impact of structural injustice - and be willing to sit with the discomfort these truths will likely bring. Next, it’s important to listen to the stories of wisdom of people who have been negatively impacted - to gain clarity about what’s needed for corrective action. Finally, we have to be intentional in learning what it means to live in an equitable society, and be willing to do the hard work of making it a reality.
Q: You are passionate about change. What drives that passion?
A: I’m a believer that there are many kinds of injustices in the world that are constructs of human hands. Humans have created these systems and ways of being, so human hands can recreate them. It takes courage to speak up when something is wrong and take corrective action, but we are also called to do no less. One of our core values is purpose: To do good in the lives of ALL others.
Q: You are the mother of two teenage sons. What is your hope for their future and other young men like them?
A: My hope for my sons, and all children is to grow up and live into a future filled with hope and multiple pathways to fulfillment. It is critically important for them to have the freedom to grow fully into their authentic selves and to be valued for who they are. There is no place in this vision for discrimination that dehumanizes any person, regardless or gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, nation of origin, or economic circumstances. This a holistic and inclusive vision for our state that can be possible for our children if we work to make it happen right now. It’s the IU Health Way.