David Skinner, Jr. might have a speech impediment, but when he starts rapping, nothing can stop his flow or his faith.
Through his music, the 38-year-old junior at Central Michigan University has been able to solve his troubles with communication brought on by his life-long cerebral palsy battle, with his talent for crafting rhymes.
Prolonged silences and the occasional stutter have been transformed into a confident freestyle as the words pour rhythmically from Skinner’s mouth.
Rap has always helped Skinner overcome his speech problems. His faith in God, he said, brought him out of being homeless and exile from his family.
“It is relaxing, and causes the brain to flow better because talking is a rhythm,” he said. “When I rap, it’s a constant rhythm.”
Skinner learned to rap at age 10. After he lived out of a car, and worked for minimum wage at the Soaring Eagle Casino for several years. He married CMU senior Jennifer Skinner, 41, in 2009.
“He’s a motivational speaker by nature,” Jennifer said. “I really believe in my heart of hearts that he is the next Martin Luther King or Malcolm X.”
David Skinner worships every Sunday at the non-denominational Potter’s House Family Worship Center on 5346 E. Deerfield Road.
Linda Newman, a Mount Pleasant-based piano teacher and frequent Potter’s House attendee has known David for about five years. She said he is driven by a desire to help, whether it’s talking to someone or jumping at the chance to get water for speakers at the church.
“It’s hard for him to communicate, but that doesn’t stop him,” Newman said of David. “He never guards himself. He always focuses on the other person. That’s the essence of David.”
Potter’s House’s Lead Pastor Ron Ives couldn’t agree more. Ives, who has known David for 15 years, has come to consider him a “servant of God.”
“David has become such an asset to the Potter’s House,” Ives said. “He’s one of our great servants, and so obviously we’ve interacted a bunch because he’s involved so deeply here as one of our leaders.”
Although he hopes to become a pastor himself one day, David recently took time off his seminary studies to focus on his double major in communication and social work, and his minor in leadership at CMU
He still credits his faith for his recent success.
“I’m here, I’m living in a dream right now,” David said. “I am in a position to minister and I’m in a position to help, in a position to serve. I’m in a position to let God lead me, wherever that is.”
Nothing comes easy
Although David said he is thrilled about his life today, his past is wrought with struggle.
Born in Indianapolis and raised in Flint, David was taught about religion by his parents, David Sr. and Debra Skinner, and his sister DeLicia.
He said he questioned his faith when he had a child with his then-girlfriend in 1998. By the end of the year, the couple broke up.
Neither knew at the time that a second child would be born the following year. In a decision he has since come to regret, the birth of his children out of wedlock lead Skinner to avoid his parents for several years.
“I had that shame. I had that guilt,” David said. “The moment I found out my kids’ mom was pregnant, I knew I did wrong and that I disappointed people.”
David moved to Mount Pleasant in June 1999 after living with the mother of his children for about two years.
It was then that he became homeless, working at the casino but living in his 1985 Cutlass Ciera near Northwest Apartments.
He moved in with coworkers from the casino in August 1999, but after about seven months, the men were evicted for being unable to pay rent.
After a brief stint at a group home, David stayed at various friends’ houses for another year.
His life regained stability when he moved to University Meadows in 2001, and then moved to Park Place Apartments after financially supporting himself through multiple jobs in the early 2000s.
He said it wasn’t until he allowed his religion to take a major focus in his life that things started to turn in his favor. Being baptized at the Potter’s House in 2006 was the start.
One day in 2005, David said God told him the only way he could truly follow a righteous path was by honoring his mother and father – and that meant re-connecting with them after years of separation.
A fateful phone call from his father in 2010 alerted David of a letter from the mother of the children he hadn’t seen or barely heard from in 12 years.
He discovered that his ex-girlfriend and kids were living in Colorado since the break up. David and Jennifer promptly planned a trip to Colorado for their spring break, hoping to reconnect.
He now talks to his children everyday, getting updates on their progress in school. He also mentors Jennifer’s son Quinn Steele, 15, from another relationship.
The three live near Rosebush, and the couple celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary on April 11.
“I look at my relationship with God,” David said. “My life without God is turmoil. It’s fear, it’s condemnation, and it is helplessness and hopelessness. But in my life with Christ – there is restoration.
“Now I am 38 years old at CMU, so close to earning my two degrees from the same college I parked my car in when I was homeless.”