John Skief was born in West Philadelphia on July 20, 1948. Early in life, he developed the versatile and authentic characteristics of a leader by participating in the All City Dance Ensemble, gymnastics, cross country running and soccer. He also cultivated and maintained a humble spirit as he established city and state high-jump records throughout his high school and undergraduate career.
During his adolescence, John became consciously aware of the injustices African people faced right in his own community. This ignited a fire for service in his spirit, which led him to join the N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council at age 14. Further, under the tutelage of the late Cecil B. Moore, John participated in many civil rights demonstrations for the equal rights of African American people.
During his maturation into adulthood, John partnered with various organizations and conducted Rights of Passage Programs, workshops for Teen Self-Esteem and Anti-Drug & Violence initiatives. He knew that properly educating the youth was fundamental to the success of their future, and that of the African community. This understanding led John to develop and conduct Teacher/Staff Development workshops for the Pennsylvania Departments of Education involving alternate approaches to education. These programs were focused on Afrocentric teaching strategies, curriculum design, implementation and, community service learning.
Government and legal policy were also a passion for John, calling him to serve as a political consultant on various campaigns. One of his most influential roles was in 1984, when he served as the campaign coordinator for Mayor Wilson Goode. He designed Election Day strategies, trained workers, community volunteers and rallied voters. He organized an extraordinary voter registration crusade in this same year. Other notable politicians he worked with are John White Sr., Chaka Fattah, Vincent Hughes, Louise Bishop, and Bill Gray.
Traveling through the African diaspora was an experience John not only personally enjoyed but shared with the community and in the classroom, for the enlightenment of others. He filmed his travels through Africa and the Caribbean islands and used these videos as learning tools for students. The meticulous notes from his numerous journeys around the world served as the basis for articles on education in various publications. Today these writings continue to educate and culturally enrich African Americans.
As a constant advocate of the African-American community, John encouraged quality education for Black youth that was centralized on their culture and worldview. After receiving his degree in education from Cheyney State College in 1971, John began his teaching career in the Philadelphia Public School System. He was a leader in the Philadelphia High School restructuring program and was the founder and coordinator of the Community Development Charter, at West Philadelphia High School. In 1973, John became one of the founding members of the Harambee Institute. This was a community-based cultural and educational institution where he served as its first director. These opportunities led to the development of an in-service course he would teach in the Philadelphia School District entitled, African and African American Contributions to Science and Technology. This course inspired him to found the Harambee Institute of Science and Technology Charter School where he served as its first CEO.
John annually produced community Kwanzaa Celebrations and gave lectures with noted Black authors and historians for members of the community. He created and directed the African American Festival , for the Robin Hood Dell East concerts and served as production manager for the Philadelphia Kwanzaa Expo and African American Parade and Festival. In 1985 he also organized the Respect Yourself , Youth Self-Esteem Program in Philadelphia. He also served as the founding President of the Pennsylvania Alliance of Charter Schools.
John Skief had a desire and vision to impart authentic cultural knowledge of Africans in the diaspora, to the children of West Philadelphia. He aspired for an accurate depiction of African people to African American children to cultivate a pride in the culture and heritage. His legacy is continued with each student that walks through the hallways of the Harambee Institute and carried on by the dedicated staff that strives to see his dream actualized.