Danika Franks has the best of both worlds in many facets of her life. She grew up in a military family and had a chance to see a variety of countries and cultures; today she’s happily rooted in her Fort Worth neighborhood. And she followed her lifelong dream of becoming a doctor—then discovered an opportunity to combine her passion for medicine with her skills as an educator.
Oh, and her interest in interior design? She’s been able to indulge that too through a home renovation, all while raising three thoughtful children with her husband Chauncey—amid a pandemic and a national conversation on race and justice.
What drew you to medicine? When I was young, I didn’t love school. Then there was one week in third grade when my teacher gave us an overview of the human body. I remember showing up every single day and having this amazing fascination with what I was learning. When that week was over, I went back to being bored. Medicine for me was just so natural. It was ingrained. It’s just who I was meant to be.
You worked as an emergency medicine physician before becoming a dean at the TCU and UNTHSC Medical School. What about education interested you? After I was accepted into medical school, I felt like I needed to get some more life perspective before embarking on such a serious part of my training. So I deferred my entrance to medical school for a year, and then I needed to find a job. I thought about teaching, because I had a biology and chemistry background. I decided maybe high school would be the best fit. Fortunately, Dallas had a need that year for teachers. Even if you didn’t have a teaching background, they would give you the additional training you needed.
I learned some amazing lessons that year. Without that experience, I don’t think I would have recognized that one of the things I love most in life is teaching. It truly is probably one of my strongest gifts, and it is one of the things that gives me the most fulfillment.
How has your interest in education influenced your children? It’s amazing for my husband and me to see what is in our children’s minds—things that weren’t even part of what we understood the world to be like when we were kids. My parents both graduated high school and did some college but decided that wasn’t for them; they really made careers for themselves by joining the military. I had the privilege to attend an institution of higher learning and to have a professional degree.
Between that and my husband’s education as well as his role in working with collegiate athletes, higher education is on our children’s minds. We’ll hear our oldest share, “I’m going to get a master’s in this.” He already understands the construct of how education works and its benefits. We consider that a real joy.
And we’re navigating some really beautiful and complex things with our children as it pertains to learning. For example, we discovered in the past year that my son has dyslexia. We’ve really been working with him to embrace the way his mind works. He’s learning how to work through how mainstream school sometimes doesn’t quite fit the way his brain operates. That doesn’t make him bad or incapable; it just makes him different.
What has it been like balancing your professional role with teaching your children during virtual learning? Starting in the spring, my husband and I shared those responsibilities. I took Monday while he worked; he took Tuesday while I worked. And when we needed to, we taught them at night so we could maintain our Zoom calls and everything we needed to do during the day. It was definitely a juggling act, like it was for so many professionals across the country.
This school year, our children are going virtually until at least Sept. 28. We are looking to create a more defined workspace for the kids and to better align our schedules as parents to support their tasks in the daytime as much as possible. Also, we are going to emphasize more reading for enjoyment for the kids. Increasing their reading fluency will keep them moving forward as we navigate online instruction. We are also going to extend ourselves more grace, because working remotely from home and schooling from home is hard!
Are your kids handling the pandemic situation well? They’re loving seeing Mom and Dad at home more; they’re still struggling with not understanding that Mom and Dad aren’t always as available to them, even though we’re at home.
At the beginning of the pandemic, with Zoom calls, I would really try to hush the kids, get them in the other room, try to make things as quiet in my home office as possible. But I think as a country and really as a world, as we grapple with having to be professionals from home, we have to be more understanding. Sometimes I’m on a Zoom call and my kids are in the next room having an epic fight. So maybe I have to say to my colleagues, “Hey, I have to go break up a fight really quick.” This morning, my youngest just needed to sit in my lap. And so she sat in my lap while I took my call. We just have to find more creative ways to be efficient and make sure that we’re still putting out an exceptional work product.
How have you helped your kids process what’s happening in terms of the national attention on race and justice? These are conversations we’ve been having with our children for a while. We are a Black family. We live in a predominantly white neighborhood. My children are typically the only children of color in their classes, and we’re having really big conversations with them around what it means to be Black in America and how to help them navigate that—how to help them understand the beauty of their heritage and how to be proud of who we are, while still having to navigate some of their own circumstances.
My son was playing basketball a few years back with some kids, and they were playing shirts and skins. He was told that he couldn’t play “skins” because his skin is a different color. So kids have real problems and real things that they’re addressing. They have real things that we have to sit down with them about on a daily basis.
How have recent events affected what you’re talking about with them? What we’re doing is responsibly giving them context for what is happening in our nation. No, we don’t sit them in front of the television and let them watch the news. But yes, we tell them what is happening and give explanations. For example, we’ve talked about the recent death of George Floyd with my older two. We talked with my son, in particular, about Ahmaud Arbery and his death as he was just jogging through a neighborhood. Some of that is in the context of the injustice. Some of it is in the context of raising a Black son to help him to understand the world that we are in as we try to change it.
How do you try to change things? My husband and I have had a lot of amazing conversations with our own community. We endeavor to help shed light on how we as Black people are impacted, even as professionals in Fort Worth. As a Black doctor, I’ve walked into the room and had patients say that they didn’t want me to treat them because of my race. When we first moved to Fort Worth, somebody called the police on Chauncey because he was sitting in his car waiting for our dogs at PetSmart, and they thought he looked suspicious. So we want our community to understand that we too are on the receiving end of both implicit and explicit biases. Unfortunately, those things happen every day.
Do you have hope for real change? I do have hope for a more empathetic, conscientious and celebratory society—where I as a Black woman, my beautiful Black family and Black people are fully seen and equally valued alongside all our fellow humans. Some of my hope is rooted in aspirations for what our current world can be, framed in the bright eyes of my children; as a Christian, most of my hope is rooted in what is yet to come and what lives on eternally.
Hails from All over. “Both of my parents were in the Air Force. I was born in San Antonio, but we lived everywhere throughout the world.”
Lives in Fort Worth. “We bought a house recently and renovated it before move-in. So I have just been going full throttle and enjoying my design skills. My mom really gave me an appreciation for beautiful things in your space and how that can boost your well-being.”
Trained as Emergency medicine physician
New career Assistant dean for student affairs at the TCU and UNT Health Science Center School of Medicine
Alma maters Midwestern State University for undergraduate; University of Texas Southwestern Medical School
Significant other Husband Chauncey, the TCU-FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) Life & Character Coach
Children Eli, 10, Eden, 9, and Elle, 6