Dr. Leah Gunning Francis is the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. A frequent guest lecturer, author, preacher, and workshop facilitator, she draws on her marketing experience, pastoral leadership and academic training to creatively equip students, clergy, congregations and organizations for transformative social action.
Dr. Gunning Francis’ work has been featured in two documentaries. Ferguson Rises, which debuted in the acclaimed 2021 Tribeca Film festival, and The Talk: Race in America, a PBS documentary released in 2017.
Her two books, Ferguson and Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community (Chalice Press, 2015) and Faith After Ferguson: Resilient Leadership in Pursuit of Racial Justice (Chalice Press, 2021), focus on clergy and young activist involvement from the Ferguson uprising through the U.S. Capitol invasion on January 6, 2021.
She interviewed more than two dozen clergy and young activists who engaged in the quest for racial justice following the shooting death of Michael Brown, Jr. in Ferguson, Missouri. For the second book, she followed up with Ferguson activists to find out what has changed since then, as well as added stories and reflections on the ongoing quest for racial justice. Dr. Gunning Francis gleaned from these stories seeds of possibilities that, if nurtured, could serve us well into a future filled with hope.
In 2012, Dr. Gunning Francis was awarded the prestigious Engaged Scholars Fellowship to study issues of risk among middle-class African American young men from the perspectives of mothers. She argues that the negative meta-narrative about young black men puts all of them “at risk,” regardless of socioeconomic class, and utilizes the narrated experiences of black mothers to construct a new narrative about young black males that promotes wholeness and well-being.
Her doctoral dissertation, Beyond “Band-Aids” and Bootstraps: Toward a Womanist Vision of Christian Education as Social Transformation, laid the academic foundation for her vocational trajectory that bridges scholarship and activism for the purpose of human flourishing.
Dr. Gunning Francis has provided pastoral leadership for congregations in Georgia, Illinois and Ohio. She has received numerous awards to include the Candler School of Theology’s G. Ray Jordan award for excellence in integrating academic study with constructive leadership and service, and the Fund for Theological Education’s Doctoral Fellow Award. She also had the distinct privilege of being awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by Fontbonne University in 2015 and an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Divinity by Franklin College in 2021.
Dr. Gunning Francis earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Hampton University; a Master of Divinity degree from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University; and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.
A native of Willingboro, New Jersey, Dr. Gunning Francis is married to Rev. Rodney Francis. They live in Indianapolis with their two teenage sons.