How does a truant young lady from poor, loving, drug addicted parents in the Bronx turn her life around to graduate from Harvard University, and have a Lifetime TV movie produced about her life? For Liz Murray, her mother’s death was her wake-up call. She was one of the fortunate ones to have “angels, teachers, and people who love her” to help her on her journey once she decided to make a change. Ms. Murray spoke to a full house at the State Theater in New Brunswick, continuing the SmartTalk series. Her story was both emotional and inspirational.
Some end up in shelters, jail or [working] in companies. What decides where you end up? Attitude determines altitude.
Due to her parent’s drug addiction, Liz Murray was born into a welfare-reliant family. She and her older sister had to ask neighbors to feed them after their monthly food rations ran out in a week’s time. Liz’s mother, Jean Marie Murray, became HIV positive, and lived the remainder of her life in a hospital. Her father moved into a homeless shelter, her older sister lived with friends, and she moved into a group home. Murray soon left the home due to intolerable negativity, dropped out of school, and found herself along with a friend, sleeping on the D train. She was suddenly homeless at the age of 15.
After Jean Murray’s death, Liz was with friends who were complaining about the slings and arrows of their misfortunes. She couldn’t stand it, and realized she sounded the same way. Murray acknowledged her blessings, and instead of feeling resentment, she embraced gratitude.
Be grateful for what you have. If you shift your heart, you shift your world.
Ms. Murray decided to return to school. Dressed in her Goth attire and avoiding eye contact, she went on interviews and was not offered admission to any schools she had applied to. One day she made a critical decision. Should she use her remaining money for a subway token to go on an interview, or to buy a slice of pizza? She opted for the token, which led her to meet with a teacher named Perry, who accepted her into the Humanities Preparatory Academy as long as she agreed that he would be her mentor.
Liz studied and completed four years of high school in two years. Perry brought her and some other students to Harvard Yard on a trip to Boston, and suggested that Liz apply to Harvard, though it would be a stretch. She took heed of his advice, but wondered how she would pay for tuition, room and board. Murray discovered a scholarship offer from the New York Times, asking applicants to inform them about any obstacles they had to overcome. She was fortunate enough to be one of the six scholarship recipients, plus she got into Harvard. Their stories were written in the Metro section of the Times. After the article had been printed, strangers gave her food and clothing, collected money for her rent, and offered laundry service to help her.
We don’t need to solve the whole problem, just do our part. Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.
Her teacher Perry disclosed that he had a mentor, who also had a mentor. This act of paying it forward has been embedded in Ms. Murray.She is an inspirational speaker touching the hearts of all who listen, whether it’s a troubled youth or an adult who can make a difference in someone else’s life.
As a teen, Liz went to The Door for their support to homeless youths. The Door has teamed up with Broome Street Academy to open the first high school for at-risk teens, including those who are homeless, live in foster homes, or come from low-income families. Ms. Murray is a part of the team that helped make it happen. She is also the founder and director of Manifest Living, which provides workshops to help you reach your potential. Her biography Breaking Night (see video below) was released September 2010 and made the New York Times Best Sellers List.
What are your what if’s? What are you grateful for? Everyone will make a difference. The question is what impact will you make?
Use promo code RB2011 to receive 10% off your individual ticket purchase. Hope to see you there!
All photos provided by Kim Schmidt Photography, LLC