By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.
The Truth Contributor
And then I heard the voice of the Master: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” I spoke up, “I’ll go. Send me!”
– Isaiah 6:8 The Message
The September 2020 appointment of John Hobbs III as a temporary member of the Toledo City Council representing District 1 provided a leadership approach that had been missing on that conspicuous legislative body.
Hobbs, who also serves as pastor of Dominion Fellowship Church, brings to local government his lifelong emphasis on spirituality in making decisions that impact the lives and circumstances of people. In seeing his appointment as “a call,” Hobbs addresses paramount ethical questions of justice, equity and truth at a time when public life has been overwhelmed by ethics failures, questionable conspiracy theories, and scientific or business decisions which benefit a tiny number of select millionaires or billionaires but harm the interests of the masses.
Historically, of course, with exemplars as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Reverend Al Sharpton, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and countless others, the African-American pulpit has “served as an incubator for transformative leaders” (Johnson, 2020).
I had the opportunity to speak with cleric and City of Toledo Councilman John Hobbs III about the role spirituality plays in his leadership practices.
Perryman: Let’s talk a bit about your background. I know you’re a proud St. Francis Knight. Please share with The Truth’s readers a little about your education and upbringing.
Hobbs: Education-wise, I graduated from St. Francis in 1987, completed Barber College at Ohio State, and then graduated from the University of Toledo in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in public relations.
Perryman: Describe your call to ministry and the road to becoming a pastor.
Hobbs: I always believed that God had a personal call on my life and, in 2005, my wife, family, and three children started a Bible study at the Dreamplex on Reynolds Road with approximately 15 members. We met for several months, then we went from a Bible study to a Sunday worship and grew from there. I’ve now served in pastoral ministry for 16 years as of March of 2021.
Perryman: And you’ve also served as an athletic coach mentoring several young people?
Hobbs: Yes, when I was 23 years old, I’d just graduated from college, and my uncle, Deacon Lou Hobbs, was coaching track at St. Jude and said to me, ‘I want you to come over and start helping me coach the girls.’ I said: ‘Uncle Lou, I don’t have time for that,’ and he said something that just stuck with me. He said: ‘Nephew, when somebody has been afforded the things that you have been, you can’t afford not to give back!”
So, I started coaching track and field with him. From there, I helped him coach the fifth and sixth, seventh and eighth grade girls’ basketball teams. I then went to Byrnedale, and was also serving as an assistant coach at Bowsher. I was also JV coach at Scott and coached at Libbey for four years. In 2010 I went to Start, then to Central Catholic as assistant coach, and then coached Bowsher High School for five years.
Perryman: And the coaching of kids was ministry?
Hobbs: It was ministry. As you know, for many coaches, it’s about their ego and how many wins and losses they have. But for me, it was all about the kids and how do I minister to this young lady, how can I give back? On Mondays, we’d sit down and have a Bible study. I would take just a short Bible verse and use it to teach these young ladies about discipline and having God both in their lives and academics.
The thing that always has stayed with me is how to affect a child’s life positively. Some of these young ladies that I’ve coached, one became a police officer a year and a half ago, another one has graduated from barber school, and several of them have graduated from college with two and four-year degrees. Many of them still reach out to me and say: ‘Hey coach, thank you for what you’ve done. I didn’t understand it then and I thought you were tough, but I understand now what you were trying to do.’
Perryman: I would like to get an idea of your approach to leadership as a councilperson. I’m assuming that it is informed by your role as a pastor in ministry. Pastors are several things. A pastor is a shepherd. A pastor is a watchman that protects and feeds the flock. A pastor is a prophet that speaks truth to power. A pastor is a herald that announces good news. How do those images inform your approach as a councilperson?
Hobbs: All of my experiences have shaped this moment in my life. The coaching, the experience at Toledo Public Schools as a substitute teacher for 10 years, and the 16 ½ years as owner of Hobbs Barbershop. At that time, I was the first Black barbershop that stretched my wings and located outside of the long-established three and a half mile perimeter of the inner city. These experiences are all part of my shaping for this moment, including all of the teachings provided by my mom and dad, who were very strict about how I did things. So, the community, the ministry, and every phase of my life have brought me to this moment. I continue to embrace every season of my life.
When the city council opportunity became available, I sincerely prayed and said: ‘Lord if this is what you have for my life at this time and this season, I’m asking you to open this door and allow me to enter. I will always put You first in everything that I do, as I’ve done until this point in my life.’ Since that door opened, I have asked God, more than ever before, for the wisdom to make the right decisions for our city.
Perryman: What do you hope to accomplish on a long-term basis in politics?
Hobbs: I am a temporary member of Toledo City Council, representing District 1. However, I would like to continue in this work and run for the seat in 2023.
Perryman: What are some of the lessons that you have learned since being appointed?
Hobbs: I’ve learned that it’s vital to remain committed to the constituents. They are number 1! So, I make it a policy to return phone calls, emails, and all communication within 24 hours. I am trying, with everything within me, to be what the constituents of District 1 want and would be proud to have as their councilperson. I work really hard, spending time in the morning before I go to work (as barber inspector for northwest Ohio) and in the evening when I get home, on emails and phone calls and all of council matters.
I’ve also learned that there’s a lot more to making decisions than one might think. Things look a lot simpler from the outside looking in than what it is in reality. I am diligent about doing the homework to make sure all bases are covered. If a constituent asks me why I made a decision, I need to be able to explain my reasoning and why I think it was important to do or not to do.
Perryman: What are the most critical issues for your constituents?
Hobbs: Right now, education, small business and public safety.
Perryman: I just got off a call with pastors about voter suppression at the state level. What are your thoughts on making it more difficult to vote in Ohio?
Hobbs: I grew up hearing stories that my grandfather told me of what it cost them to vote in Mississippi. I will not support any initiative that suppresses voting in any shape, form or fashion. And, as a pastor, a man, a man of color, and as a person that has watched people help African Americans to get the right to vote, there is no way I would support any type of voter suppression.
Perryman: What are your thoughts on food deserts?
Hobbs: We need a grocery store in the central city. We need to have somewhere for the constituents in District 1 and District 4 to be able to go and buy fresh produce and fresh meat. We need a centrally-located and accessible store where there is an opportunity for our children to do more than just run to the corner store and eat a bunch of junk all the time. The lack of nutritionally rich food affects our children’s teeth, bone structure, growth, and health. I’m willing to work with whoever can make this happen because it is imperative for us to eliminate food deserts.
Perryman: How do you balance being a politician and a spiritual leader?
Hobbs: It’s not a struggle for me because I don’t have an ulterior motive. I honestly vote what I believe. I know that my vote will not always be acceptable to everyone, but I have to stand on the principles that I believe. If I’m willing to do that, then I don’t have to worry about what I said last week or what I’m going to say tomorrow because here’s the principle I believe in. I’m not going to adjust that tomorrow because I’m talking to somebody else.
Perryman: Last thing, how do you control boundaries and find balance between your roles as pastor, husband, father, barber inspector, and city councilperson? How do you find the time?
Hobbs: Balancing my job, being a city councilman and a pastor, is because God has given me the gifts and anointings to handle that in this season of my life. I wish I could explain it to you, but I know that he’s given me the motor and mind to do this in this season. Secondly, my family is exceedingly supportive, and they help me in so many ways. Thirdly, I have outstanding help with the church. We have excellent staff that surround me and hold me up. City Council members and staff are extremely supportive also.
So, I don’t have to try to do this all on my own. I have been given great help and assistance. Because of that, I’m able to do the things that I’m doing in my life.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, PhD, at firstname.lastname@example.org