Chaylah Francis (’17) loved stories for their power to teach and encourage. Then she found out she was in a story, and it has empowered her.
In spite of her youthful interest in stories, Francis entered Liberty University unaware of her true passion and calling. As a double-major student, she embraced academic and social challenges until she “hit a hard place” with the blow of a relationship break-up. In a low moment, she walked across campus asking God for guidance about her life and purpose. She spotted a Ferrari car surrounded by film equipment and approached one of the students there who introduced her to Liberty’s new Cinematic Arts Department. Her heart stirred, her passion for stories kindled, and she switched majors to join the film students. She says getting into movie-making is a testimony to God’s leading because she had never considered it before then.
Film school invited her to look at life with a different perspective. She examined not only why she wanted to tell a story but how to tell a story well. She found joy in the process until tragedy struck. Her cousin, Gregory Hill, Jr., was killed by police in his home because they claimed he had a gun when they responded to a complaint about his loud music. Her family struggled in vain for justice. They advised her to stay focused on her studies.
Francis worked hard but questioned the purpose of her efforts. Professor Doug Miller encouraged her to “trust the process.” He said it often to his cohort of students as they strove to master both the technology and art of their discipline; the elements of filmmaking would make sense when put together into production and eventually a finished film. Francis watched her cohort’s mistakes and messy lessons evolve into meaningful stories on screen. She got the message: impactful art happened because she trusted her mentor and submitted to the education.
Putting her new insight to the test, she wrote a screenplay for her senior thesis film project. She channeled her feelings about her cousin’s fate and family’s suffering into a story about a police shooting. By grappling with her art, she gave significance to her feelings and family. She respected the struggle.
Francis began to understand her own life as a story authored by God with significant—even if unknown—purpose. Her trust in Him has become a deep source of personal strength. “When it gets to be a lot,” she says, “sometimes very overwhelming, and I say ‘Yo, I’m gonna back off on something,’ I just remember ‘Trust the process.’ Whatever I’m going through right now is meant to build me up . . . and [as Jeremiah 29:11 states,] He has plans for me to prosper.”
Today, Francis is committed to helping people improve their own stories. She invests her education and professional experience, including productions for the BET network, into young lives, having taught film to special-needs students, middle schoolers, and high schoolers. She is also pursuing a Master’s degree in Human Services with a concentration in military resilience. She writes when she can, and she still dreams of being a first AD, shaping stories that are thought-provoking and culture-changing.
Francis encourages college students to accept that “it’s okay to not know your story yet.” You feel pressured to have life figured out, but don’t beat yourself up. Take your time, and learn yourself. “I had to take the time to know myself” and now “I hope my story can encourage someone else.”