Life was good until things went dark. He began losing his vision and turned his businesses over to others, as his health quickly went downhill.
“I know what it’s like to have money and be with the ‘in’ crowd, but when something happens to you, you find out who’s in your corner,” he said. “Everybody smiling at you is not going to be with you.”
Skinner battled depression as his eyesight worsened due to pressure on his optic nerve. He decided to learn to live without sight after training at the Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired. “I don’t believe in giving up and making excuses,” he said.
In 2010, Crystal Hawkins, a Tidewater Community College alumna and friend, told Skinner about TCC, and he enrolled in two classes. “I learned quickly how to network and ask for help. My classmates and TCC security guards helped me to get to the places I needed to go,” he said.
On Dec. 18, Skinner will graduate from TCC with an Associate of Applied Science in Human Services.
“I want to be there to help the next person who may not be as strong as me,” he said. “You have to keep going, no matter what life throws at you. It’s like riding a bicycle. If you fall off, you get back on and keep going.”
Skinner credits Janice Satterthwaite with the Open Door Project for his success. “I was nervous and not very confident when I started, and she believed in me,” he said. “The atmosphere here and the students and faculty, they all had something to do with my success.”
He also appreciated the support and encouragement of Ivory Warren, program head for Human Services.
Family is important to Skinner as his mother, Patricia, was his biggest encourager. “Before she died last year, I promised her that I would graduate and make her proud. When I walk across the stage, I’ll be thinking of her,” he said. Skinner is paying it forward and encouraging his sons, Vanlincent Gray, also a TCC student, and Carl Gray to pursue higher education.
“I know that I could have given up. But I was determined to live on my own and make a new start,” added Skinner, who will attend Old Dominion University in the spring to work toward his bachelor’s in human services. He plans to become a counselor.
“There’s no doubt that coming to TCC changed the course of my life.”