Lifting a voice in gospel and educational ministry in ESL

The Rev. Dr. Leeanna Hill has been many things in life. First and foremost, she’s been part of the Baptist Church as long as she can remember, and is a minister at the Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church. She is also a registered nurse, has worked in the East St. Louis, Illinois school system and is the leader of the gospel group, The Voices of Joy, God’s Chosen Few.

Her favorite scripture, Philippians 4:13, summarizes her life philosophy: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“It lets you know that if you have a defeat in one thing, you can get yourself back up, because the Lord wants you to be the best, and you can still pursue success,” said Hill. “So many people, once they have a failure in life, they stop. They think, I’m not good enough. They’re fearful, they’re doubtful. But if you know that God is going to help you make it because He got the whole world in his hands, that will give you the strength to move on.”

She was inspired towards that spirit of perseverance by her grandmother, who raised her and her siblings in East St. Louis, Illinois.

“Her name was Mother Cora Bowman. She raised my sisters and my brothers, and she always was a motivator,” Hill said. “She always said that we could do anything that we start out to do. And so, she incorporated and instilled that in us at an early age.”

Her grandmother always wanted her grandchildren to be nurses, so that is what Hill and her sister became. Later, Hill also got degrees in science, and health education administration.

“I’ve been going to school all my life, really. I love education. And what I love about it most, is that you find out how much you don’t know. It’s not so much what you do know,” she said. “You’re getting with people you can network with that really know more than you. And then they will encourage you to move on, to become somebody in life.”

The theme of being motivated and becoming a motivator yourself, runs through Hill’s work in the schools as well as in the church. She is known for referring to her students, not just by their first names, but as ‘professors.’

“Jesus had 12 disciples following him. I thought about ‘professor’ because, God gave me that. See, when you say ‘professor,’ that stimulates the brain cells, because ‘so a man thinketh, so he is in God.’ So when I would call my students professors, the parents were motivated, and the administrators were motivated, and my students were motivated,” she explained. “I wanted to encourage the young people. They weren’t so-called gifted, but I was going to make them gifted. They were going to become gifted, because of the word. Words mean something. If you call a student ‘silly,’ that sticks with them, sometimes for a lifetime. But ‘professor,’ that’s high esteem. That means you soar with the eagles. So my students are soaring high.” She said many former students are now ministers, CEOs and some have earned doctorates.

Hill published a book about her teaching philosophy, “Motivating Students to Higher Heights of Academic Achievement.”

“I wrote the book when I was getting ready to retire from District 189, because I wanted to leave a legacy of something that all teachers, administrators, supervisors, parents, and students could use,” she said. Her book’s message of motivation is powerful enough that when she sent a copy to Michelle Obama, she was invited to come back to the White House for a personal tour. “And I saw the Obamas’ dog!” she exclaimed.

In education, in touring with Voices of Joy, and in preaching, she spreads her message of positivity and hope.

 “It’s just like a tape recorder,” Hill said. “You’ve got to stay with the positive, you can tape over the bad things. You can use the tape again, tape over the negative things, and put the positive things in. Stay in the positive, because it will come to pass. ‘I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.’ You can be anything you want to be in life.” 

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