Liz Murray has triumphed over adversity: she used to be homeless
but currently studies film at Columbia University.

Her lecture last night in Hutchins Hall at the Law School,
during which she spoke at length about her experiences with
homelessness and a rough childhood, was part of Child Advocacy Week
and sponsored by Medstart, an organization comprised of graduate
students from many different departments seeking to raise awareness
of children’s issues.

The week’s focus this year is child poverty and includes
many lectures, as well as panel discussions and benefit
concerts.

Murray vividly documented her life as a child in
“neglect,” surrounded by drug addicts, and then as a
homeless girl on the streets of New York City. She talked about the
unusual paths her life took that eventually led her to Harvard
University, her first college experience.

She described how her life had so many “strikes against
her” but said she still made it. Using her personal
experiences as examples, she said how Medstart’s initiatives
are an excellent way for people to help distressed children.

Murray grew up in the Bronx in an area with a reputation for
drugs and violence and said her family survived on welfare
checks.

She skipped school and only showed up to take exams. She
educated herself through junior high school by studying on her own
from the books that her father brought home from the library.

She said social workers were apathetic toward her situation and
many times were unresponsive to her needs. “One social worker
told me that I was old enough to take care of the house when I was
eight years old,” Murray said. Eventually she became
homeless.

Amanda Floyd, a graduate student at the School of Social Work,
said she enjoyed Murray’s story.

“As a social worker, her story made me feel sad and
ashamed that people could act this way. It made me want to fight
harder,” Floyd said.

After her mother’s death, Murray realized that she was
wasting her life and decided to focus her energies.

“I felt as if the dam had broken and everything that was
hidden came out,” she said.

She decided to go back to school . After being rejected many
times, she finally got admitted into a high school.

“Half vision and hard work is what allowed me to come to
this point in my life,” she said.

She applied to Harvard University, and for a New York Times
scholarship for students who faced adversity. She won the
scholarship, her story was published in the Times and a documentary
was made of her experiences.

Reflecting upon her life, she said she doesn’t feel anger
or resentment toward anybody for her rough past.

Last year, Child Advocacy Week was expanded to become a weeklong
event so that Medstart could convey its missions to a wider
audience and get more undergraduates involved, said Katherine
Johnson, co-president of the organization.

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