Liz Murray overcame tremendous odds to graduate from Harvard University and to become a New York Times bestselling author. The daughter of parents struggling with drug addiction and later with HIV/AIDS, she didn’t always have food or even a place to live. But with a stroke of luck she was able to find help when she needed it most.
“I think one of the big things was having the luck to apply to a school that was progressive with teachers who looked at me, someone who failed out of mainstream schools, and didn’t think there was something wrong with me,” Murray says. “They saw me and asked what they could do to make things better for me. It’s like if you see a plant that’s not doing well, you don’t blame the plant for not thriving. You change the environment – you add more soil or different plant food to help the plant do as well as it can.”
It isn’t luck alone that Murray credits for her success – community support played a big part in helping her leave her homelessness behind.
“Think of the obstacles of a homeless person. You want to sit in class and you want to do well, but you’re hungry, you’re fatigued,” she says. “You need support for all of this.”
Murray recalls the invaluable support of a non-profit youth center in her community called The Door which offered food, counseling, medical care, and a hot meal every day – no questions asked. It helped her overcome one of the largest barriers she faced: how to acquire the skills she needed to succeed.
“If you have no money, you’re homeless, where do you go? If you need to know how to write an essay, where do you go? I was missing the skills that people my age needed to have and thanks to this wonderful center which provided tutors, I was able to fill in those gaps.”
It’s not just organizations that helped Murray, but individuals as well. After her essay appeared in the New York Times, she remembers being called to the school office many times a day to meet with members of her local community who read her story and wanted to help. It’s the type of support, she says, that transforms lives
“I always think of a woman who had no money and not a lot of time. But when she was doing her laundry she thought of me and drove to my school with two laundry baskets. She told me that she didn’t have much money or time ,but that she did have to do her laundry and she could help me by doing mine,” Murray says.
That exemplifies the type of community action Murray believes is critical to ending homelessness. No one person can end homelessness, but everyone can make difference.
“Find the organization in your community that you know and trust.” Murray advises. “There are great organizations addressing the needs of homeless individuals, doing good work, bringing multiple services under one roof. The way these organizations keep helping is because people show up to make a difference. Roll your sleeves up and help.”
Liz Murray will be the keynote speaker at Union Mission’s spring fundraising event, Raising Hope, on Thursday, April 14, 2016. The event starts at 6 PM with a reception hour followed by a sit down dinner at 7 PM.