Jobie Charlie overcomes adversity, serves his country, provides for his family en route to graduation
When Jobie Charlie sat down to take the GED exam for the fifth time, he knew the deck was stacked against him – a child raised in an abusive and alcoholic home on the Choctaw reservation outside Philadelphia, Mississippi. But he also knew he wasn’t going to be another negative mark in the column for Mississippi, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians or young fathers.
Charlie’s stepfather became violent when he drank, and he drank a lot of the time. When Charlie was finally big enough, he got the courage to stand up to his stepfather and try to protect his mother. She sided with her husband and kicked Charlie out of the house, so he went to live his with his grandmother, whom he said showed him the only love he experienced as a child.
Despite being a high-school dropout, teenage father and child of abuse, Charlie has spent the last 22 years laying the groundwork for a legacy of which he and his family can be proud. He has served his country, fought in a war, faced adversity at every turn, become a leader on the University of Mississippi campus and ultimately achieved every goal he set for himself along the way.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything in my time as an administrator at any university I’ve worked at that compares to the story of Jobie Charlie,” said Andrew Newby, UM assistant director of veteran and military services.
“From his childhood on the reservation, through high school years, enlisting into the service and deploying, to enrolling at Ole Miss, Jobie has consistently worked to take the next right step for himself. He doesn’t quit. I know people say that flippantly, but to see the things he has overcome is evidence of that fact.”
NOT ANOTHER STATISTIC
“I was a statistic, your usual no father, alcoholic parents and living on the Choctaw Indian Reservation outside Philadelphia, Mississippi,” Charlie said. “And I had a kid with my high school sweetheart when I was 17. But I decided I wasn’t going to let other people take care of my responsibilities.”
When his son, Jacob, was born, Charlie decided to drop out of school and began working in factories around town so he could try to provide for his family.
“One day I realized I needed more out of life – something that my son would be proud of – so I decided to try to get my GED (General Educational Development diploma),” Charlie said.
He failed the math portion of the test four times before finally passing the test on his fifth try in 1998.
“I just don’t know how to give up,” he said. “And that was the first real victory I ever felt as far as personal goals go. All of a sudden the gates opened up, and I thought, ‘If I can do that, maybe I can do some other stuff, too.’”
So Charlie talked to a military recruiter, enlisted in the Army Reserve and went off to boot camp.
DEPLOYED TO IRAQ
With another success under his belt, he enrolled at Meridian Community College and obtained full custody of his son.
Just as things were starting to go his way, Charlie’s unit was activated, and he was deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom. He spent a few months in Kuwait and the rest of the year in Mosul, running convoy missions and security details before returning home.
Back from the war, Charlie re-enrolled in college and graduated from Meridian Community College with his associate’s degree in general business in 2007.
The next step was his bachelor’s, so he enrolled in the University of Mississippi, but as soon as he was back on track, things fell apart again. A few weeks into the semester, Charlie found himself back home caring for a sick family member and never went back to class.
He also had two more daughters to take care of now, Hannah, who was born in 2006, and Madison, born in 2009.
He kept working and advancing his way up the ladder of each job he held. He was providing for his family, but he said he was never satisfied.
“I knew I just couldn’t go as far as I wanted to,” Charlie said. “So around 2012, my girlfriend, Kat (Strangeman), and I decided to move to Oxford, and I started taking classes again. That’s where I got serious.”
ONE LAST TRY
After more than a decade of starts and stops, Charlie had a lot of work to do to put his GPA back on track. He and Strangeman worked whatever jobs they could find around Oxford to make ends meet while taking classes.
“A big part of me getting through has been Kat, who has been in the trenches with me,” Charlie said. “She came down from Chicago to work on her degree in psychology, and we literally sold our plasma so we could pay rent and stay in Oxford. She has seen all my lows as well as my highs.”
Strangeman, a licensed clinical social worker in the mental health field, said watching Charlie overcome challenge after challenge without backing down is an inspiration to her.
“Getting through any school program is demanding for any person, but the fact that he’s had to overcome the challenges the average person doesn’t have to deal with, and that he can overcome them all on his own, speaks to his character,” she said.
“Normal people have stressors that they can’t get back up from or use negative coping, but here is Jobie finding a way to deal with these internal demons without hurting himself or others. It’s incredible to watch that in my own home and know that it’s possible.”
Charlie recommitted himself to his studies and did everything he could to stay in school this time. And through all his adversity, he never let “good enough” stand.
“When Jobie took my first course in the fall of 2018, although he passed the course, he wasn’t happy with his performance,” said Arup Ganguly, UM assistant professor of finance.
“I was surprised when he came back to retake the course the next semester, and on being asked why he was taking my course the second time, he said that he wanted to learn the material well so that he can apply it to his job after graduation and was determined to do better.
“I wasn’t surprised to see his much better performance, which has improved even more in the course he is currently taking with me.”
Charlie did all of this while serving as an on-campus leader in the Student Veterans Association.
“Jobie has a calming effect on the entire enterprise that is the student veteran network across campus,” Newby said. “He is insightful and intentional with his words, and everyone loves having him around. There isn’t a person who knows him that doesn’t enjoy his presence, and we are fortunate to share any time we can together.”
Now, more than two decades after his fifth attempt at the math portion of the GED exam, Charlie is graduating from Ole Miss with a bachelor’s degree in finance, retiring from the Mississippi Army National Guard with 20 years of service and turning 40 all in the same year.
“I felt like it wasn’t in my stars to do all this, but I finally got through it,” Charlie said. “Now, I have a lot of catching up to do.”
Next, Charlie plans to put his degree to work in Jackson, where he moved this summer with Strangeman so she can work in the Veterans Affairs hospital. But he said he eventually would like to return to Philadelphia to work with his tribe. Meanwhile, his son has graduated from Oxford High School and completed his freshman year of college.
“I think that I have a lot to give to people, and I think that’s because of my grit,” he said. “I’m either too dumb to stop or I don’t know when to quit, but I’ve seen a lot and I’ve done a lot and I think I can offer a lot.
“I know that just because things don’t go right to begin with doesn’t mean they have to end the same. Ultimately you’re still in charge of yourself. I could have easily said no one wanted me or loved me and wound up another guy on the street, but I feel proud of myself for not letting things happen to me and to take control.”
By JB Clark