Chaplain listens with her eyes, ears and heart

Single mother. Struggling artist. Christian. A woman who is familiar with domestic violence and childhood adversity. Keisha Poe-Hinton draws on her personal experiences to empathize with the patients she serves as a residency chaplain at IU Health University Hospital.

Her mother was talking to her about a “blue room in heaven.” Keisha Poe-Hinton wanted to tune it out. She didn’t want to hear about her mother dying.

“I didn’t want to think about her having a peaceful life and leaving me behind,” said Poe-Hinton. There was anxiety. There was anger. But Poe-Hinton said she knew then that God was preparing her for a career serving others. “When I went to the hospital to see my mom, there was a chaplain in her room. It gave me an experience like no other. I knew my mom was in good hands.”

Her mother had been diagnosed with leukemia and contracted sepsis. She passed on Dec. 23, 2015 at the age of 69. Her death had a profound effect on Poe-Hinton – one that was also transformational.

Poe-Hinton and her older sister grew up in East Chicago, IN. raised by a single mom, three aunts and a granny who turns 99 on May 10. In high school she loved music, and history and played softball and ran track. She played the clarinet in the marching band and sang in the choir. She dreamed of becoming a professional singer.

After high school she continued singing and performing as a student at Indiana University – with the IU Soul Review, The African American Choral Ensemble, and the African American Dance Company. She thrived under the coaching of great professors including local opera’s dramatic soprano Angela Brown.

She was in her second year at IU when, at the age of 20, she became pregnant. Her daughter was born on a Sunday and she was determined to get back to class the following Thursday.

“I remember my professor saying, ‘Keisha, why are you here. You should be resting.’ I was afraid that if I took a break I would not have the strength or courage to continue on so I went back to school and never took a break,” said Poe-Hinton.

It wasn’t easy. She had to catch two buses to get to and from campus. Her friends helped her watch her daughter and along the way she taught her daughter some of the things she was learning – Spanish and math. She graduated with a bachelor’s in African American studies and moved to California to pursue her dream of singing professionally.

“You pray and ask the Lord to take you some place and then you forget about him. By me disconnecting from the Lord I was homeless. I slept on my friend’s couch,” said Poe-Hinton. Two trash bags were filled with the scarce belongings of the Midwestern mom and her young daughter. Everything else had been put in storage back home and was eventually cleared out by the storage company without her consent. She moved back to East Chicago and began looking for a job and doing a lot of soul searching along the way.

“I remember talking to my mom’s boyfriend at the time and telling him I was low and discouraged. He’d had his own struggles but was in a good place and was an unlikely person to guide me but he did. My daughter was in preschool and I wanted to go back to California but there was nothing to go back to,” said Poe-Hinton.

As an act of starting anew and freeing herself, she shaved her head. She didn’t know then that one day she would minister to cancer patients and share with them her journey to a fresh start.

“For every lesson, there’s a blessing; for every test there’s a testimony; for every story God will get the glory. God showed me favor.”

She landed a job at a local radio station working in accounts payable and began a career that would span a decade with various radio and TV stations. She wrote commercials, slotted advertising, and excelled in customer service.

“For a short period of time I was the only African American working at a country station. I learned so much about customer service and I learned it from the president. He had an open door policy and we had a lot of small conversations at the water fountain about my daughter’s soccer games or just life. I learned how to love on people in the workplace,” said Poe-Hinton.

She got married to Arthur Hinton, an elementary school principal, who adopted her daughter. Together they have a son Arthur Hinton IV, who is a sophomore at Covenant Christian High School where he plays on the soccer team. They moved to Indianapolis 23 years ago and Poe-Hinton obtained a master’s degree in urban ministry from Martin University. She has a master’s in divinity degree from Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University.

Poe-Hinton began working as a therapist for Families First and her daughter, who obtained her degree in psychology, eventually joined her as an addiction counselor.

“While we were working there my mom started getting sick. I went home every weekend to see her. One thing I learned by being a therapist is that to help someone you need to do an assessment to see how they got to where they are. I realized in talking to others that I needed to do an assessment of my own life and family,” said Poe-Hinton. “I had a lot of anger and the Lord showed me about forgiveness. She began apologizing to people she thought she’d let down – her mom, her daughter. And she began to let go of disappointment and sadness – the man who hurt her in college, the singing career that she never got off the ground, the lost years of healthy relationships with family members.

Poe-Hinton became a licensed minister in 2013, two years before her mother passed. After her mother’s death she began volunteering at IU Health Methodist Hospital. “I couldn’t go on the floor but I was happy stacking books and refilling Kleenex in the chapel, because it was my way of serving,” said Poe-Hinton.

She began a chaplaincy internship two years ago but realized she was still mourning her own loss. She continued working through her grief and took a second internship. She is now in her first year of chaplain residency and working toward her Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Formation. Her role takes her to the bedside of patients throughout IU Health University Hospital and Simon Cancer Center.

She still enjoys singing and has shared her talent with a church praise team.

“I’m leaving it to the Lord but I know he’s called me to minister to women who are suffering, said Poe-Hinton. “He has me where he wants me now. I practice a lot of active listening with patients – being present because I didn’t want to do that when my mom talked about the blue room in heaven. I recently had a patient talking about death and being on the other side running through the grass. His story was liberating. I am no longer in a place where I am afraid to hear that. I know there is joy on the other side and I want to share love and compassion for people who are working through that part of their lives.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
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