Bobby Bradley is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who grew up in Huntsville. She now focuses her time on serving others through the nonprofit she cofounded, mentoring, civic and community organizations and her church.
Written by Suzanne Conway
photos by Steve Babin
EVENT: How would you describe yourself?
BB: I am a native of Huntsville and count it a blessing that my professional career allowed me to remain here. After several years in private industry after college, 15 years as a civilian with the U. S. Army, and 14 years with Computer Systems Technology (CST), the company I started with two colleagues, I was able to turn my attention and energy to my “second act,” serving others, giving back, and doing some of the things I always dreamed of doing in a much more focused way. One of the most significant was forming Village of Promise (VoP) in 2011 which I was inspired to do with a childhood friend Gloria Batts. The vision was to eradicate generational poverty one neighborhood at a time. The mission was to develop a continuum of services which supported children from cradle to a sustainable career. The neighborhood we targeted included the one in which we grew up, which further inspired us. I continue to serve on the VoP Board of Directors, supporting the Executive Director Dr. Rachel Ballard and the families we serve. I also enjoy mentoring others and do this with new entrepreneurs, sometimes through The Catalyst and some on a more informal basis, and also with high school seniors through the AUM Foundation. I have enjoyed being able to devote more time to my church, First Missionary Baptist, and as a leader with Bible Study Fellowship, a non- denominational bible study. I currently hold board positions with PeopleTec, Inc, Huntsville Botanical Garden Foundation, and HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology Foundation.
EVENT: You’re a native of Huntsville. How did growing up here impact your life and work?
BB: God has blessed me throughout my life, starting as a young child, and for the most part it has been in Huntsville. First, I was born to two of the best parents a child could have – Christian, loving, hard-working, selfless, and committed to making my life better. I grew up during segregation and from the beginning my parents wanted to make sure I had a good education which would prepare me for the future. When Catholic priests and nuns came to Huntsville to start a new school for African American children (St. Joseph’s Mission School now Holy Family Catholic School,) my parents made the sacrifice to enroll me for the duration of elementary school. This Christian and academic foundation prepared me for opportunities to come. When integration came later in my high school, this foundation helped me navigate the negative experiences we encountered and end this period with success. Because of the technology and business base in Huntsville during the late 60’s and my major in math and computer science at Vanderbilt University, I was able to work during the summers at Northrop Corporation. Later after graduation, I received my best job offer from them. Not only was Huntsville a great environment for me as an employee, it also provided an opportunity for me to succeed in business. Huntsville has been and continues to be a supportive place for entrepreneurs. I have to credit Huntsville’s collaborative business environment, availability of strong technical talent, and the talented team of people we had at CST for the success we enjoyed as a company.
EVENT: How did you transition from the business sector into starting a nonprofit?
BB: Before we sold CST, I had the privilege of meeting Mark Stearns with Lincoln Village Ministry. I was so moved and inspired by the work he and his team were doing in that neighborhood to improve the lives of children and families that I wanted to get involved volunteering, primarily tutoring and mentoring. As I became more involved, I realized that more needed to be done in other areas of Huntsville and we could “divide and conquer” to make an even greater impact in the Huntsville community. Based on what I had learned working with the folks in Lincoln Village and the work that was ongoing at the Harlem Children’s Zone, we believed that we could serve and make a difference in another neighborhood in Huntsville. After much prayer, planning and research and the help of many supporters of this project, Village of Promise was begun in January of 2011.
EVENT: What is the purpose of Village of Promise?
BB: Village of Promise is a Family Advancement Center. We guide and support children and their families as they advance out of poverty. We utilize a two- generational approach. Every family develops an individualized family advancement plan focusing on the educational, social-emotional, physical, and professional goals of each family member. We provide sustainable tools, resources, and opportunities for families to advance and give back. Every family who completes our continuum of programs will advance out of poverty, which is the VoP mission. Our vision is to break the cycle of poverty one family at a time.
EVENT: What programs influenced the practices of Village of Promise?
BB: The Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ), based in Harlem, New York, primarily influenced the practices of Village of Promise. Gloria Batts was familiar with the work of its CEO, Geoffrey Canada, and introduced me to their work. We spent time with the HCZ staff, studied their strategies and programs, and made a commitment to replicating their approach here in Huntsville, particularly since they had proven successes.
EVENT: What do you enjoy doing outside of your work?
BB: I enjoy traveling, especially with family and friends, cooking, gardening and good movies.
EVENT: Tell about your family.
BB: I am married to Charley Burruss and we have one daughter, a son-in-law, two adult grandsons, three goddaughters as well as nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts who are all part of our family. I also consider our close friends part of our family.
EVENT: What do you love about Huntsville?
BB: I love Huntsville first and foremost because it is my home. My family and friends, some since childhood, are here and I love being able to do things with them. Huntsville is also a place of tremendous opportunities not only professionally but to serve and help improve our community. I believe if you want to get involved to follow your passion and use your gifts, you are able to do so. One of my greatest joys is to connect people and when that is done to benefit both parties, I am thrilled.