COURTESY LIZ MURRAY
Liz Murray will deliver the keynote address at HerStory 2006
Her story tells of triumph over greatest odds
AT 15, Liz Murray was homeless, eating out of Dumpsters on the streets of New York. By the age of 19, she was a student at Harvard University, on her way to obtaining a degree in clinical psychology.
In a few short years, Murray built a life out of nothing. It is a story that attracted the attention of no less than Oprah Winfrey and inspired a Lifetime movie.
Conference time: 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday
Place: Hilton Hawaiian Village, Tapa Ballroom
Cost: $110 for a full day, $80 for lunch only
Sessions include: "Holistic Me: Health Wellness and Fitness," "Release Your Woman Power: Career Development and Self Improvement" and "Enhance Your Daily Dance: Organizing Your Life, Home and Office"
Also: Mayor Mufi Hannemann will proclaim "Liz Murray Day" at 9:45 a.m. Friday at Honolulu Hale.
Murray will share her rags-to-riches style story in a keynote address at the HerStory conference on Thursday. She'll talk about how malleable life can be -- stable one moment and homeless the next.
Murray, now 25, has shared her story many times over at speaking engagements across the country and hopes these appearances allow others to see the possibility of change in their own lives. "When suffering, I had to see that things could be different. I started to grasp the value of the lessons I learned living on the streets."
There is no beginning or end to the struggle, says Murray. "Life is a lot messier than that."
When she first tried to climb out of poverty, the resentment of a rich-vs.-poor mentality held her back. On the streets of New York, she saw ladies carrying Gucci and Chanel bags on the same corner as teenagers in dirty clothes begging for spare change.
Regardless, she managed to conjure the strength to move forward.
A major turning point was losing her mother to AIDS. She was just 16, but the loss brought on some serious soul-searching. "(Death) jolts you and makes you reconsider what you are doing with your own life. I decided to live each day with a purpose."
BOTH MURRAY'S parents were addicted to drugs, leaving her to struggle for food and shelter at a very young age. Friends would let her spend the night in their homes. "I was not living in a box on the street corner," she said.
She also had the help of a high school teacher, Perry Weiner, who believed in her potential. She earned her high school diploma in just two years, then received a full scholarship to Harvard. Oftentimes, she was forced to sleep on subways, in hallways or at the park, but she studied whenever possible, using headphones to block out the world.
In 2003 the Lifetime movie "Homeless to Harvard" portrayed Murray's life, with Thora Birch in the starring role. Murray prefers, however, that her life not be glamorized at the risk of minimizing the hard work and faith it took to finally succeed.
In 2004 she was awarded talk show host Winfrey's Chutzpah Award. "Oprah Winfrey is outrageously fun," she said. "I have so much admiration -- talk about self-made," she said. "The experience was remarkable."
Her experiences strengthened Murray's qualities of compassion and love. Rather than be angry for being neglected as a child, she has rebuilt a relationship with her father, who has been diagnosed with HIV. "He has been off drugs for six years now," she said.
There is never one clear-cut answer, Murray counsels. People need to realize that change is a process. "All it takes is a little bit of faith and action."
THE JUNIOR LEAGUE of Honolulu chose Murray to deliver the keynote address not only for her inspirational story, but also because it directly ties into their signature project, "My Story."
The personal development course for girls ages 11 to 14 carries the philosophy "strong girls become strong women, the foundation of healthy communities."
The nine-week course is designed to help girls develop self-esteem, confidence, courage, resiliency and inner strength. It also teaches them to express themselves and interact with others. Sessions are held in the fall and spring at the Boys and Girls Club and the Susannah Wesley Community Center.
"The facilitators act as coaches and guides, not experts at the front of the room, didactically giving out information," said Lee Ann Del Carpio, president of Inner Power International, who helped create "My Story."
"By asking questions about who the girls are and what they value, and being truly present to hear their responses, the girls learn to develop self-awareness, give voice to their uniqueness and find value and worth in their individual talents and abilities."
Junior League President Avis Takamatsu expects about 500 women to attend the one-day HerStory conference.
"Our goal is to offer a multigenerational experience that blends the myriad areas of a women's life -- career, family and personal wellness -- where they can recharge, reconnect and get inspired."