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From Homeless to Final Four History

Fisk Forward Being Honored for His Courage

Fisk University basketball player Jeremiah Armstead poses for a portrait


(AP) — Jeremiah Armstead moved around so much he wasn’t even eligible to play high school basketball until his senior year. He never lost faith through all the nights his family slept in their car when they couldn’t get a hotel room or into a shelter. Especially that first night at a beach parking lot after leaving Philadelphia for California only to learn their new home had disappeared.


A police officer came by their car that night with no parking allowed after midnight and saw a family of four sleeping. “He let us stay there,” Armstead said. “So just encounters like that, with, like, everyday good people, it just helped me to not, like, be mad at the world and what I got going on and just wait, which I did. I waited four or five years, and now it’s something finally changing.”


Armstead not only has survived, he has flourished. The Fisk forward will make history as the first player from a historically Black college or university or NAIA school to receive the Perry Wallace Most Courageous Award from the U.S. Basketball Writers Association at their awards luncheon hours before the national championship game. “I don’t think it’ll sink in fully until I get there to the Final Four and experience everything,” Armstead said of learning about the award, which is named for a Nashville native who made history as the first Black man to play basketball in the Southeastern Conference at Vanderbilt.


The 6-foot-5 Armstead was born in Atlanta and lived in Philadelphia until his mother moved to Long Beach, California, to live with someone close enough to count as family except that woman unexpectedly moved to Texas, leaving Mindy Brooks and her three children stranded.


They stayed in a hotel for a couple weeks, then wound up in a shelter in Santa Monica.


Shelter time limits also forced them to move around, making even practicing basketball a challenge for a family focused first on surviving. They finally got some stability for his senior year, living in an apartment during his first semester and into the second. That gave Armstead time to improve his game.


“I could just wake up at 6, go to school, catch the bus and everything,” Armstead said. “I didn’t have to worry about my mom waiting outside in the car all day or anything like that. So the mental fatigue was kind of wearing off.” Stephen Bernstein helped connect Armstead with Fisk through his foundation, We Educate Brilliant Minds, based in Los Angeles.


 “I have seen the worst of the worst,” Armstead said. Basketball has been his safe place. Now he is in the best physical shape of his life and majoring in kinesiology and almost halfway to a college degree he never thought would be possible. He turned 20 on March 26, an age he never envisioned reaching, let alone celebrating and planning a future.


“It showed me why ... I should keep doing what I’m doing and keep having faith in God because a few years ago I didn’t think I was going to be here and I’m here,” Armstead said.

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