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.