It isn’t just the rags-to-riches defiance that intrigues its listeners, but the dispelling of a common myth — the one about “born to lose” — that inspires.
One such story will be told Thursday night in downtown Cleveland in the Museum Center at Five Points.
Our hometown’s special guest will be Liz Murray, an internationally recognized author and inspirational speaker who arose from the New York City streets as a homeless teenager to become a Harvard graduate whose story of hope and unending conviction to succeed has been told in book and film.
Her local audience is especially appropriate. The winner of Oprah Winfrey’s “Chutzpah Award” will deliver the keynote address to Empowering Women, an annual fundraiser benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland.
Janey Cooke, event chairman and organizer, and longtime supporter of the local nonprofit for youth, selected Murray as this year’s guest with purpose. What better way to reach out to Cleveland’s young people — some of whom face untold risk as products of troubled homes — than to introduce them to a grownup who once walked in their shoes, and who now is the inspiration of a nation.
Born in 1980 to drug-addicted parents who recklessly embraced the hallucination-laced ’70s, Murray’s dysfunctional family offered her little path to independence. So she took life by the horns and set out on her own.
In an interview with our newspaper, Cooke said of the bestselling author, “Liz declared at 15 if she was going to have any kind of life at all, she was going to have to make it on her own.”
It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t fun. It meant studying for school in a quiet hallway outside a friend’s apartment in the Bronx. It meant sleeping wherever sleep found her. She had no bedroom. She stayed warm under no roof. Both parents had been infected by the HIV virus. Both eventually died of AIDS. In fashion too unmerciful for any so young, the frightened — but determined — teen sculpted a life riddled by hunger, fear and uncertainty.
Yet, committed to her studies and refusing to be derailed from her quest for success, the solo teen graduated high school in two years and earned a scholarship from The New York Times which became her passage into Harvard, and eventually a degree in psychology.
For one so young, Murray seemingly has lived a full life. Her story has been told in The Times, in a segment on “20/20,” as a featured guest on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and in the “Lifetime” network movie, “From Homeless to Harvard.” The film is based on her autobiography.
Personal fulfillment — and success — have finally found her. But she still has work to do. Murray stays on the road year-round making public speaking engagements, such as Thursday’s keynote to Empowering Women, and hosting self-development workshops.
When one’s teenage years are spent sleeping in subways and eating from dumpsters, total satisfaction, even as a career-driven adult, is little more than a fleeting dream. Murray today uses her dissatisfaction to inspire others. It’s about outreach. It’s about self-betterment. It’s about a life once only imagined.
When 300 advocates of Empowering Women — all of whom are staunch supporters of the local Boys & Girls Clubs — convene at the museum, theirs will be an evening of magic. It won’t come from a wand or top hat, from flaming rings or disappearing assistant.
This soft moment will flow from the heart, one whose beat will echo a lost tick in time when a lonely little girl survived the streets and defied insurmountable odds.
We applaud the ladies of Empowering Women.
We admire your cause and we welcome your endearing guest.