“We didn’t have much.”
James Mobley grew up on the north side of Tyler with six siblings, raised by a single mom. Home was great, although his family moved a lot. At one point, the family of eight shared a two-bedroom living space.
They didn’t have much, but they were grateful for everything their mother provided. He uses his life today, as an example to young kids that through struggles and lessons learned, success is still possible.
Mobley told his story through a children’s book, “We Didn’t Have Much,” in which he talks about what he hopes to achieve through his message.
“We didn’t have a lot growing up. We didn’t know that because that was kind of normal for us. Mom always made things feel like we had what we had when we needed it. Looking back now, it’s easy to see that we were not as blessed as many families were, but we were blessed to have a mom who always made us feel like we were individuals who could do great things in life if we just worked hard and continued to keep a strong faith,” Mobley said.
Mobley attended church at True Light Baptist every Sunday morning with his mother and siblings. Academics were always important to Mobley as well. He did great in school and in athletics throughout his time at Tyler ISD. He attended T.J. Austin Elementary, Boulter Middle and John Tyler High School. In high school, he played football with the jersey number 11.
Mobley said he had great experiences at Tyler ISD. He credits good teachers and coaches for making a huge difference in his life. He specifically remembers Gladys Bradshaw, who was one of his English teachers in high school.
“Mrs. Bradshaw was always tough on me and I did well in English, but it was mostly because Mrs. Bradshaw was always on me to just be excellent. I remember her telling me one day she jokingly said, ‘You may not like me now, but you will like me later and you’ll understand that later.’”
Mobley recalls bumping into her at a reunion many years after that, where she asked him, “Was I right?” Mobley responded, “Yeah, you were.”
“She really pressed me to be good at writing and pressed me to understand the importance of reading and understanding the things that you just need to expand your horizon, when it comes to not only the English language but literature as well,” Mobley said.
Another faculty member Mobley remembered to make a difference in his life was his high school coach, Lawrence LaCroix, who has since passed away.
“He was really instrumental in keeping me humble when I was pretty successful at football. I was a quarterback at John Tyler and was highly recruited,” Mobley said. “He just always reminded me, ‘Look, no matter how good you get, make sure you always remember it’s not about you, you don’t have to taunt, you don’t have to point fingers, just do your job and keep rolling.’ I appreciate Coach Lawrence LaCroix for that,”
Mobley also remembers his school counselor, Flora Nauls, who he said helped him think about what he wanted to do when he graduated high school. He also remembers his classmates and those who he played football with.
Mobley also participated in organizations out of class, such as the Latin Club and the Honor Society. With the support of Tyler ISD staff, Mobley graduated as the highest ranking male student, third in his class at John Tyler.
By the time he graduated from John Tyler High, Mobley earned academic and athletic scholarships. He attended Southern Methodist University, where he continued to play football and majored in business.
After school, Mobley took his chances to play professional football with the Kansas City Chiefs as a free agent. Although his time with the Chiefs was short-lived, he enjoyed his time meeting people and making connections.
After having fun with football, Mobley came back to Texas and began to work in technology in the Dallas area. He has been in technology for his entire career, not only working with big technology companies, but also running start-up technology companies. He has been the CEO of three smaller tech companies and has been an executive at a number of large technology companies. He is currently an executive at a Silicon Valley technology company.
“I’m always interested in giving back,” Mobley said. “That’s what the book is about, not having a lot but still working hard and once you finally reach some level of success, making sure that you give back to those who have similar circumstances to what I had growing up. That’s really what the story is about, just taking a lot of things that I experienced and things that I do now. I know what it’s like to not have a lot and I know what it’s like to have people to pour into you, whether that be teachers or whether that be coaches or people at the church, people in the community, that devote time to you to help you.”
Mobley’s inspiration to write the book came from his wife Wynona, a huge fan of Hoda Kotb of the “Today Show,” who had written a book. Wynona told him she really liked the book. While joking around, Mobley told her, “It’s a great book. Everybody’s got stories in their own lives, so I could probably write a book as well.”
Wynona laughed and said, “Well go do it.”
“I literally went into my office and wrote the book,” Mobley said.
That was one year ago. He was finally able to publish the book in 2020. The push came from Mobley’s daughter, Taylor. During the pandemic, she went back home to her family instead of staying in San Antonio, where she lives by herself. Mobley said his wife and daughter inspired him to finish the project.
To Mobley, it was more than just showing his wife he could write a book, too.
“The reason why I could go and write it right away was because we’ve all got stories that I think others can learn from. For me, it was much more about that,” he said. “As you kind of go through your early childhood and you struggle a little bit just trying to get through, and when you finally do achieve some level of success, you have a tendency to reflect many times when you’re sitting in a room where you kind of look out and you go, ‘Wow, how did I make it here,’ or whether it’s a room where you’re being recognized, you replay those stories. You replay every struggle that you had, you replay every lesson you were taught by your mom and others, you replay every little thing that kind of led you to get to where you are, and then you replay what is now my responsibility,.”
Although the book is about his story, Mobley said there are other children who have the same exact story.
“It’s not always about material things. It’s just about reaching a point where you feel good about yourself and you can now pay it forward. You can go back and help others,” he said.
Mobley said there was something in him telling him he needed to tell his story to help others.
While helping her father to get his book published, Taylor worked as the creative designer and worked with So Lifted Designs to come up with the illustrations that Mobley wanted. He wanted the book to have a minimalistic look with splashes of color. Mobley’s role in the illustrations simply communicated what he wanted the illustration to be for each page.
Taylor is Mobley’s youngest daughter. She is a television producer, host and a philanthropist who has a passion for giving back, as her father taught her. Every year, she puts on a fashion show called, “Taylor’d For You.”
The fashion show celebrates boutiques and designers while also empowering people of all ages to embrace style trends tailored to their body types. While doing that, the platform also gives back through charity by choosing a nonprofit to donate to each year. For the fifth annual fashion show, the platform is giving back to Meals on Wheels San Antonio.
“She’s got not only a good professional career, but she’s really good about giving back, which is what the book was all about as well,” Mobley said about his daughter.
Mobley’s book is actually dedicated to his three children, Madison, 33, James, 32, and Taylor, 26. In the dedication of the book, he writes, “May you always find the time to give back.”
“It’s something we’ve always talked about. I think that the most important thing you can do is to help somebody else have a better life. That’s something we’ve always talked about in our house and I wanted to dedicate it to them, so not only would they have that message ringing in their head, but also they would be able to see it in writing, that it’s important that they always find the time,” Mobley said.
The book is a story told through the eyes of a boy who grows up. The book starts with the boy in front of a mezzanine with ‘Tyler’ on it, which Mobley said is supposed to symbolize the square and downtown Tyler.
Mobley said when he and his siblings were younger, anytime they could scrape up a little bit of money, they would go to the square to the movie theaters, when there were three at the time.
“If I remember correctly, one was the Liberty, one was the Arcadia, one was the Tyler theater, I believe, and occasionally, I still remember going down with my brothers to see ‘Bambi’ and a few other movies on the square, and every year around Christmas, that’s where Santa Claus was on the square. That’s symbolic there, is that there were some good memories hidden around the Tyler square, but for us,” he said.
Through the book, Mobley shared his experiences, such as not having much food, but being encouraged to share, not getting a lot of toys around the holidays, but cherished the few that they did get, not laying around on Sundays, but going to church with is mother, not having a lot of money, but working hard in school and dreaming of having more.
The book transitions to the boy, older, in a cap and gown with a degree, to growing up to have his dreams fulfilled, returning to his hometown to help those who don’t have much.
His story mentions creating homes and spaces for people to live in, helping those who don’t know about church, helping those who don’t know a lot about money, which Mobley does now, by teaching people how to earn and how to save.
The book is also about striving to do more and going back to the same town and giving back. Mobley has come back to visit north Tyler to invest and to help build homes with his business partner.
Mobley said the north Tyler he grew up in and the north Tyler he sees today is that of great energy, passion and a great community. He credits the city of Tyler to the contributions of each side of town.
“The perception is always, for whatever reason, that there’s more crime in predominantly Black areas, but the reality is there’s crime everywhere. There are great things that happen on both sides of town and there are great things happening in north Tyler even to this day,” he said.
The last page shows the little boy sitting at a desk thinking about ways to help others and give back.
“All the things that were (in the book), were examples of things that I have done now that I have been fortunate enough to see my way through a little bit of hardship and a little bit of scarcity in order to have the means where I can back that now today,” Mobley said.
Mobley decided to make kids his target audience to show children the importance of not being influenced by material things, but to inspire them to be kind, share and work hard in school.
During the creation of the book, he decided he wouldn’t give the boy a name to allow each child’s imagination to wander and to see themselves in the character.
“You have to do that at an early age, where their minds and their values and their characteristics are still being shaped. It was also to teach some lessons to parents as well, although they may not have a lot, you can still instill in your kids, how to be kind, how to work hard, how to not get too caught up on, maybe, if you don’t have anything you like, but just making it work,” he said.
Mobley said adults have also been purchasing the book for themselves and teachers in the Dallas area have posted photos online showing they have been reading it to their students.
“It’s encouraging to see. It seems like it really resonates with a lot of people. It seems like the kids really enjoy it and the teachers and grown ups like the lesson that it teaches, in a very simplistic yet powerful way,” he said.
“We Didn’t Have Much” is designed for those in grade school, up to the age of about 10. The book is available for purchase on Amazon for $7.99 and is currently in the Amazon Best Sellers list for Children’s Sleep Issues, which features books such as, “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site” and “365 Bedtime Stories.”
Mobley receives nothing from the sales of the book. All proceeds go to the charity his daughter, Taylor, features in her annual fashion show. This year, it will go to Meals On Wheels.
Mobley’s mother still lives in Tyler to this day and is turning 94 this week. He will be back in town to celebrate her birthday along with his family.