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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Williams-Skinner

HONORING TOM SKINNER’S REMARKABLE LEGACY - 30 YEARS LATER

Updated: Jun 30

June 14, 2024 | by Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner | NCNW National Chaplain and President of Skinner Leadership Institute


June is the month in which Tom Skinner was born 82 years ago and passed away 30 years ago. At a time of declining civility, rising racial terror, political upheaval, and threats to democracy, there is much that people of faith and diverse races today can learn from Tom Skinner’s teaching and practice of racial healing and commitment to biblical social justice.


I met Harlem-born gang leader turned evangelist Tom Skinner in the late 1970s. He was a household name among evangelicals of all backgrounds as a transformative and spellbinding gospel preacher, often called “a prophet out of Harlem.” By then, he was transformed from an angry urban youth to a sought-after preacher who had authored four books, including best-seller, Black and Free,still sold today on Amazon.com


As a powerful gospel messenger, he traveled to seven continents nationwide, speaking to groups from Members of Parliaments, congressional leaders, corporate executives, warring gang factions, and people of faith from all races and generations. Sadly, he faced significant opposition among many white evangelicals for speaking plainly about America’s history and contemporary systemic discrimination and mistreatment of the poor as inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus. 


I had recently moved from agnostic to a Jesus-follower when I met Tom. I was still a strong Black power advocate from my roots in California’s Berkeley/Oakland Bay Area. Enraged about systemic racial injustice and poverty, I was one mother’s prayer away from joining the Black Panther Party. Only God could have connected me and Tom! 



Our greatest conflict was my failure to understand why Tom spent so much time preaching and teaching white evangelicals, many of whom turned a blind eye to racial injustice. Tom fully shared my passion for justice and equality, but he felt compelled by God to preach to people of every race, even those whose views of Black people helped to prop up systemic injustice. Tom’s way of lovingly demonstrating Jesus’ teaching to “love your neighbor” and becoming “an ambassador of reconciliation with the ministry and message of reconciliation” rubbed off on me over the years and became a core part of my life and leadership of Skinner Leadership Institute.


In the 30 years since Tom Skinner passed, I have witnessed the changed lives of many White Christians impacted by Tom's teaching and public witness. Many are engaged today in racial reconciliation, urban ministry, and social justice ministries because they were transformed by God's redeeming love, like Tom. While I brought to the ministry of Skinner Leadership Institute many gifts, talents, and professional experiences different from Tom's, there are many lessons from doing life with and being mentored by a true prophet of our time, Tom Skinner, that I have internalized over the years in the ministry. 


For several decades, Skinner Leadership Institute has ministered to people of all races, generations, and backgrounds around the vision Tom and I shared: "Raising of a new generation of morally, spiritually, and professionally excellent leaders and bridgebuilders committed to empowering the underserved." Our ministry to congressional leaders, interfaith clergy, millennial and Gen Z leaders, racial reconciliation partners, and voter protection collaborating, developing, and protecting the voting rights of vulnerable citizens are all aimed at advancing this vision with godly courage.


Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them; for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.  Deuteronomy 31.6



 


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