OUT OF THE FIRE: Dr. Harry Hobbs’ remarkable journey through the fire of life to become the man he is today

By Erin Coggins | Living 50 Plus

Those in the community may recognize Dr. Harry Hobbs as a soldier, a spokesperson for the Huntsville Police Department, a professor and dean, the founder of Community Awareness for Youth (CAFY) and presently as the Vice President of Employee Engagement at Huntsville Utilities. But what they do not know is that Hobbs lifted himself out of the fire to become the man he is today.

Or at least until they read Harry’s book.

Harry, along with his wife Erica, last year published his first book titled “A Flawed Man’s Plans in God’s Hands”. Released last July, the book is currently sold on Amazon, Wal-Mart, and other online retailers.

The book details Harry’s journey through life along with three brushes with fire, which he says has anchored him his entire life.

“I had a traumatic event as a child that resulted in being scalded on my back. That was my first encounter with fire,” Harry said. “I also had a traumatic experience in the military that resulted in third-degree burns on my face. And our house burnt down when I was a child. So, these three events have anchored me in life a little bit.”

The book, which begins with Harry’s experience of growing up biracial in Kentucky during the ‘60s, was not intended to be a tell-all book. In fact, Harry initially wanted to write a book on how to make it in corporate America.

“My idea was to write a book on how to get two doctorate degrees. How do you become excellent?” Harry said.

But his wife had another idea. Erica awoke about two years ago detailing a dream she had of Harry writing a book about his life.

“She said she had a vision from God. She said we were going to write this book. I would not have been able to write this book without my wife,” Harry said. “I never thought I would write a tell-all, but I guess I did. I had to worry about some fallout because even people and members of my family may not have wanted their stories told, but they are part of my story. This is my story.”

Harry’s story is full of decisions, but the first decision addressed in the book was not one of his. Born out of wedlock to a black mom and white dad, Harry’s aunt and grandmother made the decision to raise him. He was the only biracial child in a five-mile radius and experienced racism from both sides.

“Initially, I was the African American kid that they wanted to beat up because I looked like the enemy. People would bully me,” Harry said. “There were instances where I was told I was on the wrong bus. I have memories of being with my grandfather, a very dark African American man, at a store in Barton when the police were called because he was with a white kid. I can’t tell you how many times my family would go shopping and I would become a problem. I felt guilty about that. You know, causing issues everywhere I went. This was until I could figure out and understand that America was in the middle of trying to find their identity on this.”

To get out of poverty, Harry made the decision to join the U.S. Army at the age of 17. He was enlisted for 10 years and an officer for 20 years. His last assignment was the ordnance proponent chief in charge of all ordnance proponent training.

“I had my ups and downs in the military. I repeated the sins of the father and had a child out of wedlock,” Harry said. “I had never revealed this before until writing this book.”

It was while serving overseas that Harry met Erica. During his first assignment overseas while working as an off-duty bouncer at a club, Harry carded Erica as her sister accompanied her to the entrance of the club.

“I was 19 years old, and she was 16 years old. I told her sister that night as I let her in the club that I would protect her. And I have been protecting her ever since,” Harry said. “Her father, retired military, tried to run me away, and rightfully so. I just kept trying to win the family over.”

The couple have been married for 43 years. Harry said they had their ups and downs as a young couple in Germany. They had a child early. One of the commonalities that kept them grounded was being multiracial. Erica is African American, Native American and Asian. Their stories are a big part of the book.

“People may look at her and say she’s African American and I’m white, but in reality, I was more African American than her because I grew up more in the culture. She grew up in a more diverse culture, traveling around in a military family,” Harry said. “We always thought that was pretty funny, that we were always judged by the color of our skin, not our experience in our cultures.”

Harry says the book title came naturally because he is–a flawed man with a plan.

“The flawed man’s plans are in God’s hands. It was only by the grace of God, you know, that I would take myself forward and then two steps back,” Harry said. “I was trying to overcome the carnal man, overcome the abandoned, you know. I was an abandoned kid living in poverty in between races, identity crisis and trying to figure out how to navigate it.”

One way Harry navigated his life was being ambitious, taking advantage of every opportunity that came his way, including obtaining two doctorate degrees–one in human resource management and the other in business administration.

“I didn’t want to leave any doubt of my credentials. I didn’t want to leave anything on the table,” Harry said. “In the military, I attended every school I could because I wanted to give myself every opportunity to be able to have the knowledge to help other people.”

To pay it forward, he has mentored thousands of young people to go to the military academy, college, job market and military. He worked as the JROTC instructor at Columbia High School and currently serves on Gov. Kay Ivey’s board on the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act. He also has a diversity equity inclusion certificate from Cornell University.

“I want to be the bridge, whether it’s race, whatever the divide is, whether it’s education, whether it’s the have or have nots. I’ve been there. I’ve lived it,” Harry said. “I know what it feels like to be a statistic and not heard. I’ve seen things within my own family that could not break that cycle. And I’ve been through third-world countries. I’ve seen things and I know how precious life is.”

He does not brag about his accomplishments, instead, he uses them as a way to heal and pay it forward.

“I think I am (ambitious) because I wasn’t supposed to be here, and because of that, I will always owe a debt to society and to the community I live in,” Harry said. “I’ve always tried to honor the decision my grandmother and aunt made by not aborting me, by not giving me away to a home. And then I have a little survivor guilt from the war as well. I got the opportunities that most people could only dream about. And so, I always want to honor that by giving my best effort.”

Harry admits that the stories he shares in the book are not typical dinner conversation topics. Along with the personal stories about his family, he shares his past of dabbling in drugs and street life. He calls it a book of forgiveness, redemption, restitution and success.

“Sometimes in life, you make the same mistake a couple of times before you understand how to break away from that mindset and peer pressure,” Harry said. “There is a way to succeed in America. And if people feel that they’ve made mistakes, they can recover. Success is different for different people, and they are worth something even if you have gotten here by accident.”

Add love to the list of words Harry uses to describe his book. “Love can be forever. I believe in love. I believe in the American dream. It’s messy. It’s dirty. Marriage is hard,” Harry said. “But I believe in it, and I believe in Jesus. And I’m not ashamed of it. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.”