"Homeless to Harvard" subject shares inspirational story with local elementary students


by Content Creator


Posted on May 26, 2010 at 1:58 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 26 at 2:07 PM

(WHAS11) - Her story inspired the Lifetime movie "Homeless to Harvard" in 2003.  Wednesday Liz Murray shared her story with students at J.B. Atkinson Elementary school, but she says the students there inspire her.

Atkinson Elementary has a slogan: Hard work plus perseverance plus teamwork equals success.  It's what they call their "success equation" and no one demonstrates it more than Liz Murray. 

She was a homeless teenager living on the streets of New York City after her drug-addict mother died from complications from AIDS.  She went to school, got a scholarship to Harvard and graduated from there.  Now she travels the country sharing her story with kids in impoverished areas. 

But Atkinson Elementary, she says, is different.

"Atkinson is unlike any other school I've ever been," says Murray.  "I visit a lot of schools... but you can tell they have changed the context for students here.  Something special is happening.  I've never been to anywhere where the students are brimming with such joy for learning and possibility."

That has a lot to do with the Principal.  Dr. Dewey Hensley came to Atkinson four years ago from an affluent school in the suburbs to make a difference.

"We're about 97% free or reduced lunch," he says.  "That can be a challenge, but it can also be extremely rewarding."

He says it's all about putting the idea in students early that anything is possible.  And the students believe it wholeheartedly.

"If you practice, you can do anything you want to," says 5th grader Dominic Powell.

"Follow your dreams and ask for help," says 4th grader JB Brewer. 

"She was inspiring," said Brianna Coedy, a 4th grader.  "A real example of being resilient and persistence.  She said 'dream big.'  I think that means if you follow your dreams you will succeed."