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From homelessness to community leader: Derrick King connects adults to higher education

As director of the Laker Educational Opportunity Center, King uses his platform to help adults reach their educational goals
Derrick King getting students acclimated to the Laker Education Opportunity Center
Posted at 5:39 AM, May 22, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A path forward isn't always a linear path, and no one knows that better than Derrick King. From growing up in an abusive household to experiencing homelessness, King persevered and now uses the life lessons he's learned by helping others.

Whether it's coaching high school basketball or connecting adults to higher education through a Grand Valley State University program, King is passionate about being a positive influence for the community.

From homelessness to community leader: Derrick King connects adults to higher education

"Where I am now is making sure that I stand in the gap for those who look like me," King said "First-generation, low-income kids of color that are looking to see other positive things in life. I want to make sure that I'm a good image and a good representation of what that looks like."

King grew up in West Michigan and didn't have many positive male influences when he was young.

Derrick King as a toddler with his aunt
Derrick King as a toddler with his aunt

“Drug addiction, domestic violence. I've seen it. I was part of some tough situations," he remembered.

King was in and out of shelters growing up, his mom being the one stable force in his life.

"Most of us as black men, we had a mom that led us, that helped us to get to wherever we are," King told FOX 17.

Derrick King as a young adult with his mom
Derrick King as a young adult with his mom

Sports and his mother were the two things that helped King stay positive and focused on his future. He's played basketball since he was young and the sport helped him get to Northwood University and Davenport University where he continued to play.

He now coaches varsity basketball at Ottawa Hills High School and gets to be a positive male influence for young men.

“Coaching our kids in the community for me is the best thing ever, because a lot of them come from situations like me," King said.

Derrick King coaching varsity basketball at Ottawa Hills High School
Derrick King coaching varsity basketball at Ottawa Hills High School

King has made it his life's mission to coach students not just on the court, but off.

King is the director of the Laker Educational Opportunity Center (LEOC) through TRIO Student Support Services at Grand Valley State University - a program that connects adults with educational opportunities. The plethora of resources in the program, including financial aid access, help adults figure out their next educational steps, whether in trade or academics.

"Our goal is to help those that are first-generation and low-income students, as well as any other student to pursue higher education," King said. "We sit in front of them, we write out the plan, we follow the plan, and then see them through it until they graduate.”

LEOC was able to get on its feet through a $1.2 million dollar grant that goes until 2026, but King hopes it goes much further because he's already seen the program paying off.

Derrick King getting students acclimated to the Laker Education Opportunity Center
Derrick King getting students acclimated to the Laker Education Opportunity Center

Yolanda Antwine wanted a fresh start in life, so she moved to Grand Rapids recently and learned of the LEOC through her local library. She quickly signed up and is back in school as a 25-year-old.

"The lack of resources kept me from school, I've always wanted to go back to school," she explained.

Antwine used to go to Delta College but couldn't continue her studies at the time. Now she's focused— planning her path forward with a clear head.

"This program I believe will help steer me in the right direction," Antwine said.

Isaiah Bradford may graduate Central High School this week, but he played basketball at Ottawa Hills High School under King, who introduced him to the LEOC program as well.

“Coach King, he talks to me a lot about schools and what I want to do in life," Bradford said. "To be successful, I have to stay on top of my stuff.”

Issiah Bradford has played basketball since he was six years old, and with Derrick King's guidance decided he wants to go into sports management
Issiah Bradford has played basketball since he was six years old, and with Derrick King's guidance decided he wants to go into sports management

Bradford applied to over 20 colleges and universities but chose to head to GVSU because of the guidance and resources available through LEOC.

“I'm really happy," Bradford said.

King's success story has created a ripple in the Grand Rapids community, helping athletes like Bradford and students like Antwine find their paths.

“I'm at a high school. I'm at a college. I have ways in which I can answer questions. I have people to connect others to," King said.

And those connections are growing as each person uses and influences the program— creating a standard for how we support young adults.

With the help of community leaders and advocates, FOX 17 is introducing A Path Forward— an initiative to spotlight programs, people, and resources in West Michigan— like King and the LEOC— that have a positive influence on young adults.

Check out our list of community resources available to help in West Michigan.