As I get ready for We Day, I am looking forward to another season of inspiration and motivation. I am going to be sharing the stories of some of the We Day speakers here on my blog – and they are all truly inspiring and are definitely We Day worthy. Though there is one person that stands out to me the most. She is someone who is such a role model for not giving up, trying your best, giving back and to not let any obstacles get in your way. Her name is Ashley Murphy.
Ashley is 16 years old and is in grade 11. Her parents have 10 children – 8 are kids they adopted or fostered, including Ashley. She was born with HIV and was on life-support until she was five and a half months old. At one time, the doctors believed that she would not live more than a few weeks. Ashley says, “obviously, I had other plans.”
I had a chance to interview Ashley about her story, her message and her passion for my blog. I am so excited to share this with you. I know that you will love her as much as I do.
How would you describe yourself?
I am a sixteen year old girl but I’m small for my age. My friends say I am quirky, funny, loud and smart. My teachers would say I am all of those but quiet. I am a very hard worker and a loyal friend and like to stand up for what I believe in. I’m stubborn, chatty and a person who is always either laughing or smiling. I love the theatre and therefore I gesticulate a lot when I speak. One of my passions is music and singing.
I would think that most people would describe me as strong because I was born with HIV and was very frail for the first six years of my life but I battled back over and over and kept defying the odds. I always try to look on the bright side of every situation and live my life to the fullest.
Tell me about your family. :
I come from a family of ten kids and most of them have some sort of special needs or medical condition. Most have come from abusive or neglectful backgrounds and many of us have lost one or both of our birth parents to addictions.
My mom was a dental hygienist until my brother was born disabled and then she quit to take care of him and my sister. My dad is a special education teacher and they both came from big families. They couldn’t have any more kids after both were born premature and they had three miscarriages so they decided to build a big family in a different way. So they started taking in kids that others would not take. Kids in wheelchairs, kids with serious medical conditions, developmentally delayed kids and kids with behaviours.
With love and patience and a lot of teamwork all of us kids overcame some pretty big problems and bonded. We finally had a family and a permanent place in this world. We are all making a life for ourselves. My brother graduated from university in spite of serious medical challenges in his life, my sister is a paralegal and is now in school working on becoming a lawyer – after beating cancer and having a mild heart attack at nineteen, my brother who is a quadriplegic and legally blind and had a catastrophic brain injury graduated from high school and is going to go to college – not one of us is the type to give up.
At We Day last year, you talked about your family’s passion for volunteerism. What motivates you?
We know what it is like to be in a situation where we need help and we know that we are fortunate that we always had enough to eat, always had someone to talk to and play with. We knew that no matter what we did we would never be hit or abused again. Each of us kids (and our parents) have chosen to spend a good portion of our free time volunteering for organizations that mean a lot to us. We all volunteered for Easter Seals, Sick Kids, Variety Village (that is how my mom and your dad became friends when I was three), Abilities Centre and the Jennifer Ashleigh Foundation because those organizations helped many of us.
I personally also volunteered for The Teresa Group, AIDS Committee of Durham Region and AIDSWalk because they have helped me with my own health and teen groups. I volunteered to help raise money for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities in an ad campaign with Wayne Gretzky because they helped my grandparents when my aunt was getting a liver transplant.
I was extremely fortunate to go on a Me To We trip this summer to Kenya where I helped build a classroom, learned about the way of life and the way that Free The Children has impacted life for the people of Kenya. I was able to speak to HIV patients and we learned about each other’s struggles and triumphs. I fell in love with the country and its people and I hope to return someday. I am currently raising $10,000 to build another classroom and I am up to around $3000. This money is not for me to go back to Kenya; it is to fund the building of a classroom. I have donated all of my own savings to the fund as well which was $1000.
We strongly believe in giving back and in helping others as long as you are able to. Even small things add up.
Ashley in Kenya, 2014
What do you want people to leave We Day feeling or knowing after you speak this year?
My hope is for people to go back to their schools and communities and spread the word that HIV/AIDS is far from over, that it CAN happen to them and to know the facts. You can’t catch it from hugging or kissing someone or sharing food. I hope to decrease the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS and for people to know that people who have contracted the virus are just regular people. I want people who are living with HIV to know that it is possible to live openly with the disease and be accepted and happy. I am sure that there are some people who are uncomfortable with the fact that I have this virus but I can’t let that stop me and all I can do is educate people and hope that they listen and have an open heart and mind.
Who inspires you?
Princess Diana was a big influence in my life even though she died before I was born. My mom was comfortable saying yes to taking me in directly because she saw the volunteer work that Princess Diana did with AIDS patients and figured that if she can hug them, kiss babies and show compassion then it must be safe to do so because all the security she had would not let her get hurt. It always stuck with my mom and little did she know that years later she would be asked to step in. The Children’s Aid Society called hundreds of other people and they all said no way. If Princess Diana had not been so forward thinking and brave back then, my mom might have also.
Martin Luther King Jr. inspired me since I was in grade five. I was very inspired by his teachings and his belief in non-violence and wanted to learn more. I read everything I could get my hands on, researched and watched movies and documentaries. He is my personal hero and his wife, Coretta Scott King was a big HIV/AIDS advocate back in the eighties and nineties when it was taboo to be one. I was so honoured and grateful that I was able to meet his son, Martin Luther King III twice through We Day. It is one of the biggest highlights of my life thus far.
Who are you looking forward to meeting at We Day this season?
I hope I get to meet Magic Johnson. He has been such a leader in the HIV/AIDS field and was speaking openly about it back when people wouldn’t even talk to you if you had it.
I enjoy meeting everyone that I meet and I hope that they take my message back to their own circle of friends or fans and help spread the word. In my mind they are all superstars because they are volunteering their time at We Day and helping to effect real, tangible change in the world.
Ashley is the perfect person be the first in my series of profiles for #MyYearOfAction. She and her family have taken action through compassion and volunteering in their community and Ashley has taken action by using her voice to share her story, inspire others and educate people about HIV. She is a role model for so many reasons and I hope that she has inspired you too.
Ashley has a fundraising page for the school that she is building. At the time of this post, she is almost one third of the way to her goal of raising $10,000. You can check it out and support her with a donation or leave her a message here.
This is Ashley speaking at National We Day in Ottawa 2014.
You can follow Ashley on Twitter, too https://twitter.com/AshleyRose_FTC