Brenda Combs is a symbol of inspiration and perseverance to all who meet her. Only fifteen years ago, she was a homeless crack addict, a petty criminal, a gaunt and hopeless wreck who had been shot, beaten and raped during the endless years when she lived under a bridge in the worst part of Phoenix. It took hitting rock bottom for Combs to find the strength to turn her life around, on a blistering summer day.

As a woman who at one time could not help herself, Combs now spreads a message of hope wherever she goes. Her journey has not been an easy one, however. Growing up in a middle-class family in Northern Arizona, she fell into a bad crowd, began using drugs, and dropped out of school. Her life continued on a downward spiral, leading to her serving jail time and becoming homeless. During her darkest days on the streets, she endured unspeakable trauma – physical, mental and emotional.

Her journey, which has been called “From Homeless to Hero” by local and national media, has received tremendous coverage, including an article in Reader’s Digest and interviews on The Today Show and on CNN. She has also appeared on radio talk shows across the country, and accepted invitations to sing and share her message on stages across the globe, including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

“If I can do it anybody can do it. I believe in myself and my ability to do my best. I’m intelligent and I’m capable of achieving greatness. I think every person has inside of them what it takes to succeed. The day I woke up on the streets and someone had stolen the shoes off my feet, was the day I knew I had to change my life. I knew God had a better plan for my life than this.”

Combs began taking major steps to re-enter society as a productive individual. She entered rehab and worked hard to overcome her addictions. While living in low income housing, Combs took a part-time job at a school located in an at-risk neighborhood not far from the streets that had been her “home.” As she worked with these special children, she knew she had found her life’s calling – to teach and to inspire by sharing her own story of overcoming tremendous obstacles.

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Once she set her sights on becoming a teacher, there was no stopping her. As a single mother of a young son who suffered a stroke at birth, she juggled three jobs while earning a bachelor’s degree in Human Services. She taught at a school for children with special needs, and continued to pursue her education at Grand Canyon University (GCU), where she earned a master’s degree in Special Education in 2007.  And in May 2011, Brenda received a doctorate degree in Organizational Leadership with an emphasis in Education under a scholarship presented to her by GCU – thus, becoming one of their first doctoral graduates.  Professor Combs is now a full-time member of GCU’s faculty and she also spends many days of the year traveling around the country educating others about the plight of the homeless community.  She shares her story with a variety of audiences, including colleges, professional organizations, youth groups and churches. 

Dr. Combs is the founder of Finding My Shoes, a charitable organization that serves the homeless and underserved communities – people for whom she frequently lobbies.   Her success rate for this program is an astounding 99%.  Dr. Combs sits on the advisory board of Children Mending Hearts, a foundation dedicated to inspiring underserved children through the arts.  She also serves as an advocate for Domestic Violence Awareness and, in 2009, Combs was named a National Ambassador for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association's "Power to End Stroke" campaign. 



GrioNEW YORK, NY-- January 31, 2012 -- Today announced the third-annual "theGrio's 100" list, honoring Phoenix's Brenda R. Combs. This exclusive list honors Black History Month by highlighting the next generation of African-American history makers and industry leaders who have the potential to make a difference in the lives of all Americans. Combs joins 99 other individuals from across 10 professional fields, including business, education, sports, science and the environment, media, service and activism, politics, health, pop culture and the arts. Read the Full Press Release Here