R. Thurman Barnes, JD, MDiv

GVRC Assistant Director; Associate Professor in the Department of Urban-Global Public Health at the Rutgers School of Public Health

R.Thurman Barnes

Mr. Barnes is the Assistant Director of the NJ Gun Violence Research Center (GVRC) and Associate Professor at RU-SPH, Urban Global Public Health. He brings a wealth of practical experience to the GVRC and the School of Public Health, from years in government to the private sector and ministry. Mr. Barnes served in a senior role while working in the NJ Assembly Office. As Chief of Staff to the Assembly Majority Leader, Bonnie Watson Coleman (currently, Congresswoman NJ-12th District), he led her statewide campaign on criminal justice reform and authored an extensive package of bills that was hailed by the New York Times as a model for the country. The legislation sought to make common sense changes like allowing those incarcerated access to educational programs to achieve their high school diploma and provide those released from prison with their medical records. At the start of the 2010 legislative session, incoming Speaker, Sheila Y. Oliver, asked Mr. Barnes to serve as her Chief of Staff.

He worked collaboratively to enact multiple legislative proposals on behalf of the Speaker by monitoring national trends and culling bi-partisan and stakeholder support. He admirably served the Speaker and the majority caucus before transitioning to the private sector. As Area Director, Government Affairs, for a major cable and telecommunications company headquartered in New York, he was responsible for all federal, state, and local lobbying efforts within New Jersey. He supervised internal and external teams of consultants to best position the business interest of the company with regulators, elected officials, and the communities within the company’s franchise area. After several successful years spearheading the company’s government affairs strategy, Mr. Barnes resigned to enroll at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he pursued a Master of Divinity. While attending seminary, he served as Chaplain at Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, where he provided pastoral care to victims of interpersonal violence and their families. Mr. Barnes witnessed firsthand the devastation gun violence can have on the individual, family, and community.

At the conclusion of his studies in seminary, the Lieutenant Governor of NJ/Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs (DCA), Sheila Y. Oliver, asked Mr. Barnes to join the Commissioner’s Office as Director of Policy and External Affairs. In this role, he was the point of contact for all elected officials and their staffs; provided the department’s feedback to the Governor’s Office on pending legislation; and worked closing with community facing organizations and stakeholders to administer Community Service Block Grants. Mr. Barnes remains well-respected in New Jersey’s political and policy circles, having forged relationships on both sides of the aisle as well as with key community-based organizations and stakeholders.

Research Interests:
Mr. Barnes’ will supervise the research focus of the GVRC to ensure our mission to become a center for excellence in programmatic research on gun violence. Mr. Barnes will work to ensure the research produced is translated for diverse audiences with an emphasis on the racial disparities associated with everyday gun violence. His longstanding relationships with municipalities, stakeholders, and the faith-based community will be instrumental to GVRC’s plan for civic engagement and the overall success of our research. Mr. Barnes’ will pursue areas of academic interests like the intersection of Black voices in public health—often discounted or overlooked—with an emphasis on historical figures with a tangible connection to faith and/or faith-based communities. An ecumenical and interfaith approach to examining these voices will allow a holistic understanding of the history of public health advocacy, or public health justice, with a focal point on the foundational work championed by resilient men and women of color.