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Student writes book about faith, struggles

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Oct. 5, 2012 at 5:05 a.m.

Harlan Bryant makes it a point to wear a dress shirt and tie while attending classes at Victoria College, while most other students dress in shorts and T-shirts. Bryant has overcome many road blocks in life, but his faith keeps him strong and motivates him to succeed.

A dim, crescent-shaped scar on Harlan Bryant's temple is all that remains of the injury that forever altered the 37-year-old's trajectory.

With his forefinger, Bryant traces the faded marking on his head, while simultaneously lowering his gaze downward.

Bryant's disconnected stare quietly exposes how easy it is for him to remember the tragedy of the childhood accident - when Bryant's healthy, 5-year-old brain suffered irrevocable damage and more than 30 years of struggles because of it.

"This is what happened to me," said Bryant, pronouncing each syllable in conspicuous effort as he glided his finger across the scar. "I hit my head with a tailgate of a truck."

In the months after the accident, a team of medical professionals determined Bryant would be mentally disabled for the rest of his life.

Doctors also prepared Bryant's family, who lived in Morales, that he would never secure the same personal and professional successes that many of his peers would.

Those predictions were half right.

At 37, Bryant is a single father of three healthy and vibrant children.

He's a retired U.S. Navy man, Veterans Affairs volunteer, and 1994 U.S. Olympic trials qualifier for the 400 meter and long jump events.

But he's also a Victoria College student working toward a bachelor's degree in special education. And last month, after years of preparation and effort, Bryant added published author to his list of triumphs.

"All my life, they labeled me as a child, as dumb and retarded, and that I couldn't read anything," he said. "But I've always been good at athletics and math and I take care of my kids . I wanted to write about my life and tell people that I faced some trial and tribulations, but through it all, God put some great people in my life."

Bryant's book, "Why Me?", is a self-published autobiographical account of building a relationship with God, while overcoming the struggles of mental disabilities, bullying, poverty, homelessness and raising three children on his own.

"Why Me?" begins in a California women's shelter, where Bryant lived with his children for 10 months after his meth-addicted wife walked out on him - with her husband's life savings in tow.

"I was living in the shelter with my children for five months before I finally told anyone. The women there helped me with parenting, and I helped them with their education," he said. "It was good because I was able to work and go to school and get an apartment for us after that. And there were a lot of women there who were worse off than me, so it made me feel good for what I had."

Bryant returned to Texas a few years later to resume his military responsibilities. He divorced his wife and committed to fight a successful court battle to gain full custody of his children.

"I thank God they're with me, and that they get to carry my name," he said. "For all the stuff they went through with me and their mom, and living in a shelter, I thank God they don't have any mental problems."

Today, Bryant's raising his children in Edna, where he grew up, and attending First Baptist Church as frequently as possible.

But he hopes his book resonates with the community and at least encourages others to praise God for any perceived shortcomings because they may be part of a bigger plan to serve God.

"I wanted my story to encourage young men and women that even though they have a bad situation, you can have hope and be anything you want to be," Bryant said. "And I want them to know that you should never be ashamed of who and what you are. My doctors said I was special education and would always be different. That's what they said, but God said something different."



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