On January 27, 1998, Sojourners editorial staff was meeting when we got an emergency call from a friend, Rudy Carrasco. Racial reconciliation activist Spencer Perkins had collapsed and been rushed without a heartbeat to the hospital. Rudy asked us to pray for Spencer and his family, and we did, right there in the middle of our meeting. We asked God to be with Spencer and to heal him. There was still too much reconciliation work to be done, we prayed. We couldnt lose Spencer now. Minutes after our meeting ended, we received an e-mail from Rudy telling us Spencer had died.
In many ways, Spencer Perkins shocking and sudden death couldnt have come at a worse time. Of course, there can never be a good time for a vibrant, committed 44-year-old-a loving husband and father, brother and son-to depart for his heavenly home. But for those of us outside of his family, church, and loved ones, the loss of Spencer Perkins was perhaps most acutely felt because of the work of racial reconciliation that he and ministry partner Chris Rice were raising to a new level in America.
The psalmist says that God ordains all our days before we even come to be, and one could certainly see this at work in the life of Spencer Perkins. Born in 1954 in the heart of the South, Spencer confronted the injustices of racial inequality every day of his life. Of course in America most, if not all, people of color experience the bite of racism. For Spencer and the Perkins family, these issues bit hard enough to draw blood. As the oldest child of John and Vera Mae Perkins, civil rights activists and the founders of the Christian Community Development Association, Spencer experienced at an early age the discrimination, hatred, and violence his family faced because of the color of their skin-and their courage to speak out against such treatment.