The only people at school who knew the truth about Jeremiah Armstead’s home life were his basketball coaches.
Armstead, 18, was exhausted from sleeping in his mother’s car and from the stress of living in a domestic violence shelter with his mother and younger siblings while in high school.
He had never played basketball before moving into his first family shelter at the age of 14. But once he started playing, he fell in love with the game — and his coaches.
After school at Long Beach Polytechnic High School in California, he would play basketball for hours before asking a friend to drop him off at a convenience store near the shelter, a trick he learned to avoid telling anyone where he lived.
His hard work paid off: he was not only accepted to Fisk University, a historically Black college in Nashville, but he was also recently selected for the school’s basketball team by one of his longtime idols.
Kenny Anderson, a former point guard and NBA star who played for several teams, including the Los Angeles Clippers, is the Bulldogs’ head coach, which Armstead almost couldn’t believe. Anderson was the subject of the documentary “Mr. Chibbs,” which chronicled the legendary player’s struggle in the face of a rocky life and financial difficulties. “Basketball is easy, life is hard,” says Anderson in the film.
Anderson stated that he understands what Armstead has been through because he has also been through difficult times growing up in Queens.
Armstead said he was thrilled to unpack his suitcase in a college dorm a few weeks ago, describing it as a welcome change from the shelters where he had previously resided.
He grew up in Philadelphia and became homeless when his family relocated to Georgia when he was 14, he said, adding that he and his two younger siblings occasionally slept in their mother’s car after she and the children fled an abusive relationship. Armstead and his family asked The Washington Post not to publish any further details about the abusive relationship, but they did agree to include their names, photos, and other personal information.
Armstead described the domestic violence shelters where they stayed as helpful but challenging places to live.
“It was really hard living in a small space with four people, and I didn’t want my friends to know I was living there,” he said. “I had to tell myself to keep breathing, keep being diligent. Bad times don’t last forever. Things can change.”
Mindy Brooks, Jeremiah’s mother, grew up in Southern California and decided to relocate Jeremiah and his siblings there during his sophomore year of high school.
Brooks said she found shelter in Santa Monica and drove her children 30 miles each way to and from school in Long Beach.
Armstead said his mother and siblings waited for him in the parking lot during practice on afternoons when he couldn’t get a ride from a friend after he made the high school basketball team as a power forward.
Brooks also knew her son aspired to further his education at a historically Black college or university and to continue playing basketball.
She told the shelter’s administrators and counselors about her son’s goals, and they assisted her in identifying colleges that met his requirements and putting her in touch with several nonprofit organizations to see what kind of financial assistance he might qualify for, she said.
He was at a friend’s house less than a week after applying to Fisk when he found out he had been accepted.
According to Armstead, Fisk offered him a partial tuition scholarship, and the majority of his other expenses, including food and housing, will be covered this year by donations from nonprofit organizations such as We Educate Brilliant Minds, Sisters of Watts, and the Do Good Daniels Family Foundation. He stated that he will make spending money by working part-time on campus.
The nonprofits told him they will support his education as long as they have the means, Brooks said. They are continuing to raise funds.
Armstead said he calls his mom and siblings several times a week at the shelter where they’re living to fill them in on how classes are going.