The HURSTON SCHOLAR
BY WENDY DWYER
Famed author Zora Neale Hurston and renowned Zora scholar Marvin Hobson were born in different generations and different parts of the country. In fact, Hobson never even heard of the author responsible for such classics as Their Eyes Were Watching God and Dust Tracks on a Road until he was well into his 20s.
But anyone who knows anything about Hurston knows that when she wanted something, she usually got it. Maybe that’s how fate connected both educators through time and space to find a forever home in Fort Pierce.
Originally from Riverhead on Long Island in New York, Hobson’s family was not well-off.
“We were poor,” Hobson says, “and I wanted to make money.”
The desire to succeed financially motivated him to attend Farmingdale Community College for an associate degree in business. He was immediately recruited and hired by Chase Manhattan Bank in Hicksville, New York, making more money than he ever dreamed a 20-something could make. But Hobson found the position mind-numbingly dull and before even knowing what he wanted to do next, he quit the job and headed upstate, garnering his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the State University of New York at Albany.
“I tried my hand at music and Africana studies,” Hobson says, “but I kept acing the English classes I loved, which helped keep my GPA high.”
Hobson’s advisers begged him to switch to an English degree, but “How many big, 6’2″ black men do you know have a degree in English? I fought them tooth and nail. Then I met Dr. Kamberellis, an old white guy who’d gotten his degree late in life, and I think having a male mentor and representation showed me that this was something a man could do.”
After graduating with a master’s degree in reading education, Hobson interviewed for and was offered nine positions in Florida, which had just begun implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act.
“I was certified at the time when reading programs had become very popular and began my teaching career at a high school in Tampa in the middle of the school year,” he explains.
Hobson says working in an inner-city school that had been burned down during desegregation and risen from the ashes was a terrific learning experience.
In 2005, Hobson and his wife, Sherise, moved to West Palm Beach to be closer to family and Hobson tried his hand at teaching middle school.
“Teaching middle school was the most fun I ever had,” Hobson says. “You’d be breaking up a fight one minute, then learning literature the next. I was tapped to teach an honors English class at the last minute, and the required reading was Zora. I had never even heard of her, but I was hooked.”
As fate would have it, the year Hobson taught students about Hurston was the year the mass grave of 674 African American victims of the 1928 hurricane was dedicated. Hobson accompanied his students on a very moving and educational journey that brought Hurston and her account of the deadly hurricane in Their Eyes Were Watching God into crystal clear focus.
But Palm Beach County didn’t feel like home for the Hobsons and though they lived in Port St. Lucie for a while and commuted, the couple longed for a place with a strong sense of community and belonging. They found that in Fort Pierce, and eventually settled in Lakewood Park in the Portofino community of homes.
“When we moved to Fort Pierce,” Hobson says, “we became involved in the River of Life Fellowship Church off Juanita Avenue and we felt connected.”
Hobson took a position as an adjunct English instructor at Indian River State College and was soon hired into the English Department as an associate professor, a job he loves. Hobson and his wife, who is an advising coordinator at the college, welcomed daughter, Shayla, 10 years ago and recently added Obi, a long-promised puppy for Shayla.
Teaching and working on a doctorate during a pandemic was tremendously challenging, but Hobson finally added a Ph.D. to his credentials last year.
“Being a student during the pandemic and trying to finish the degree helped me to understand what some of my students are going through,” Hobson says. “Mentoring students is really what I feel like my calling is and it’s hard to do that online. I like to make sure the students are fulfilled academically and holistically. I like to be able to help them find resources and become a stronger human being.
“Now when I get to see students live, I appreciate it even more. Teaching is not just assignments; it’s in the skills where you interact with the students and helping to strengthen their soft skills.”
Hobson, who heads the Zora Neale Hurston Florida Education Foundation in Fort Pierce, is excited about sharing more of the famous author with the community.
“The foundation is hoping for a grant to renovate the building and do literacy programs there,” he says. “The Zora Foundation is doing a reader’s theater later version of Fort Pierce legend Brenda Cooper’s play, Grandma’s Wedding Dress, soon. We have so much talent here in this community and we are trying to find ways for young people to positively express themselves and contribute to the community. We want people to know that you can be right here in Fort Pierce and use your gifts and talents through The Zora Dust Tracks Museum and Humanities Center.”
Hurston and Hobson may not have connected in real life, but if you believe in those things, it appears fate seems to have moved time and space to bring them together.
March 10, 2022
Lives in: Lakewood Park
Occupation: Associate professor at Indian River State College
Family: Wife, Sherise; daughter, Shayla; and family dog, Obi
Education: Bachelor’s degree in English and master’s in reading education from SUNY Albany; doctorate in English literature from Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Hobbies: Music – “I have a soprano sax and a clarinet, and I hope to learn to play them both this year. I also sing with my church.”
Who inspires me: “My family, my students, my community.”
Something people don’t know about me: “I started my career in banking.”
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