Edward Murray Jr.s life was close to taking the direction of so many other young black males growing up in inner-city housing projects.
He could have followed the lure of street life, of making quick money by selling drugs. He could have fallen into the trap that leads to prison time, drug abuse, or death at the receiving end of a bullet.
And while Murray admits he was tempted at a young age to go astray, he also was determined not to become just another statistic in a Baltimore police blotter.
I knew that even if I did make money selling drugs, I wouldnt learn anything, he says. I wanted to see the world.
Murray got his wish.
He and his family, which includes five children, spent four years in Germany, where he served as an Army hospital administrator until 2007. On May 15, at age 31, Sgt. Murray received a BSN from the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore. The next day, he and his wife, Katrina, also received degrees in social sciences from Marylands College Park campus.
Along the way, Murray has touched the lives of countless people and overcome obstacles few can imagine.
And in a way, he is just beginning.
Murray already has accomplished plenty, but he intends to do much more and is driven to help those in need.
After fulfulling his military obligation, Murray sees himself returning to Baltimore to make a positive impact on the healthcare of his community. He hopes to start his own program to reduce healthcare disparities through health promotions and prevention interventions targeted at heart disease and HIV/AIDS.
Those around him have no doubt he will succeed.
He can accomplish anything, says Katherine Fornili, RN, MPH, CARN, assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing. I know hes interested in getting an advanced degree. He could come back and teach one day. I can see him coordinating or managing programs, or working in middle management, or management of health department programming or a non-profit program.
Against All Odds
Murrays life was destined to be special. He is the seventh of 10 children, and when Murray was born, the IUD his mother used to avoid another pregnancy was found on his toe.
That was the first obstacle Murray overcame in a life filled with tumult, tragedy, and temptation.
As a 10-year-old, the drowning death of a 1-year-old niece who hit her head while bathing affected him deeply. He desperately wanted to help, but neither he nor anyone else knew how to perform CPR. The feeling of helplessness steered him, he says, toward a career in healthcare.
At age 15, the father of one of Murrays nephews was shot in the head and killed while trying to rob a convenience store.
Murray visited his nephews father at Johns Hopkins Hospital before he died and was impacted by the words of a nurse who grabbed Murrays hand and, with tears in her eyes, begged Murray to steer his life in a different direction.
Please, do not let this happen to you, Murray recalls the nurse saying. You can make something positive happen with your life.
I could not understand why she cared so much even to the point of tears, and she held my hand so tightly, Murray said. It almost felt like a divine intervention in my life, and I am sure that I have not been the same since.
But life would throw a few more curves at Murray.
In high school, Murray says, he almost entered the illegal drug trade.
I set up a meeting with a cousin to pick up a package of cocaine; however, the meeting never took place since my cousin was shot by a city police officer during a shootout, and he was paralyzed from the waist down and had to wear a colostomy bag, Murray says. That is when I knew that the life of crime was definitely not for me.
After graduating from Baltimores Dunbar High School in 1994, Murray attended barber school that summer and fall. He enlisted in the Army Reserves on Feb. 2, 1995, and completed basic training and advanced individual training a seven-week patient administration military occupational specialty course on Aug. 22, 1995. He spent the next year employed as a factory worker, a dishwasher, and a barber before taking classes in the pre-professional chemistry program at Morgan State University, Baltimore, in fall 1996.
About the same time, at age 20, he and a 19-year-old brother bought a row house in Baltimores inner city. Murray also took in a nephew for whom he would care for the next seven years while the boys mother, Murrays sister, battled a substance-abuse problem that still plagues her.
My niece who drowned was this same sisters first child; therefore, I was compelled to do something, he says.
Murrays compulsion to help showed itself again in 2001.
Murray met his wife at Morgan State, and they were married Aug. 29, 1998. Three years later, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Murray requested to be placed on active duty. He was sworn in Jan. 2, 2002, and stationed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
By this time, he was the father of two girls (Kaitlin and Katherine), and Katrina was pregnant with their first son (Emanuel). Murray eventually had to give up school for full-time employment to provide for his growing family, and after receiving orders to Germany, he and his family moved overseas Sept. 15, 2003. Murray served as a patient administration specialist in the Baumholder Army Health Clinic under the Landstuhl Regional Medical Command in southwest Germany.
Murray took online and face-to-face credit courses through the University of Maryland University College-Europe to complete the prerequisites for nursing school. He returned to Baltimore in June 2007 and began taking courses at the school of nursing and living in military housing at Fort Meade in August 2007.
It didnt take long for Murray to make an impression on some of the nursing faculty, including Fornili. She couldnt help but notice Murray, whose hand always seemed to be in the air during class.
I was teaching Research Methods at 8 a.m. on Monday morning, says Fornili. Most of the students didnt want to be there at 8 a.m. on Monday morning. But whenever I asked a question or asked for feedback, wed laugh about it. Eddie, I cant call on you all the time.
Murray also stood out beyond the classroom setting.
In a community health clinical under Fornilis direction, Murray worked at Baltimores Christopher Place Employment Academy with the Catholic Charities-sponsored Our Daily Bread Employment Center literally in the parking lot of the state prison, Fornili says. The 18-month residential job-training program is comprised of mostly homeless black men who lack job skills and have addictions, Fornili says.
Murray made an instant impact.
When Eddie stood up and introduced himself, he mentioned he was from Baltimore, and it was like immediately something clicked between him and the guys, Fornili says. It was like you could almost hear an audible click in the audience of these 10 or 15 men. They increased their attentiveness, and they started laughing and smiling.
Fornili was equally impressed with the way Murray handled the pressure of his final semester this spring.
Not only was Murray dealing with the pressure of schoolwork he and every other student faced, but he was faced with family situations that would have made a lesser man crumble.
He had a nephew with an alcohol problem who didnt want to enter treatment, Fornili says. Another time, he asked if he could turn in something at 5 (p.m.) instead of noon. He had been up all night with his sick child.
Through it all, Murray never wavered.
Toward the end of the semester, all of the students melt down, Fornili says. You see it coming. You know its going to happen even when they dont know its going to happen. Multiple competing priorities just become overwhelming. Thats just what nursing education does to you.
He was Steady Eddie through the whole thing.
He never stressed out. I dont understand how he doesnt stress out. I imagine hes got to be experiencing stress and processing it somehow. I never observed it. Maybe somebody else has.
Murray isnt sure how he has accomplished all that he has, but he says his wife and children are his motivation to succeed. He also credits his strong Christian faith, instilled in him by his mother, Jeannette Storrs.
Another of Murrays nursing school teachers says Army training has been instrumental in making Murray the person he is today.
Maj. Clausyl Plummer, RN, MSN, of the Army Nurse Corps was Murrays med/surg clinical instructor. Plummer also took on the role of Murrays pseudo-adviser and mentor.
He is an exceptional student, way beyond his years in maturity, Plummer says. My bias is that the Army has contributed to a lot of that. Hes exceptionally disciplined.
He had to have the core values, which, I hesitate to say, is refreshing given his background coming from the inner city of Baltimore. Coupled with what he received in his childhood with what we have instilled in him, it has made him an exceptional individual.
Plummer recalls the impression Murray made on a group of nurse managers during his senior practicum course. Nine nurse managers from Baltimore-area hospitals were invited to conduct mock interviews with senior students, and Murray was among those who volunteered to be interviewed. The two-hour session took place in front of the rest of Murrays classmates.
When he finished his interview, all nine of the nurse managers wanted to hire him, Plummer says. He was that well put together. It was almost as if he knew what questions they were going to ask. His answers were close to perfect.
Plummer is Murrays neighbor at Fort Meade and considers Murray a friend.
He has invited me into his personal inner circle, and for that I feel grateful and privileged, Plummer says.
Fornili also says she feels fortunate to have met Murray.
Hes impacted me more than most students Ive dealt with who have come from backgrounds with none of those challenges, Fornili says. And hes funny. Youre talking about serious things that destroy families, and youre sitting there smiling with Eddie because hes dealt with it so well or said something funny about something else. Hes got a good sense of humor.
Im not frequently impacted by students the way he and a couple of others impacted me.
Much to Accomplish
As impressed as Plummer and Fornili have been with Murray, they envision him accomplishing much greater things in the future.
He reminds me of a young me 15 years ago: his drive to succeed, his commitment to his family, his commitment to the United States in general, and specifically to the United States Army, Plummer said.
I put it in his evaluation that as soon as possible the Army needs to select him for graduate school, and I envision him doing a PhD. He is that driven.
In the next five years, I see him as the chief nurse of a preventive medicine cell (for the Army). He would be supervising three or four other community health nurses or preventive medicine nurses.
Both believe Murray will follow through on his desire to return to Baltimore to serve the community in which he grew up. And being from Baltimores inner city will make him all the more trustworthy to those hell being trying to help, Fornili says.
Hes expressed interest in starting some kind of program for African-American males or African-American families in Baltimore to help them get out of the cycle of poverty and illness, Fornili says. And I think he will be a credible messenger. Once hes more experienced, I think theres going to be nothing that stops him.
Plummer says he would love to see Murray stay in the Army beyond the 20-year commitment needed to retire with full benefits, but he doesnt see that happening.
One of the things I know Eddie is burdened with is spreading the word to those who are less able to be exposed to preventive medicine issues, Plummer says. His drive to serve his community is so strong, I suspect he wont do many, if any, years past his 20 years in the military, because his goal is to come to Baltimore and serve.
There are many of us who would like to see him hang around past 20 years and become a full colonel and effect policy changes and inspire young nurses in the Army. Realistically, I dont see him doing it because the community call is greater than the Army call.
Murray says he soon will be take the NCLEX, after which he will be commissioned as a 2nd lieutentant in the Army Nurse Corps and complete a nine-week training course at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Murray and his family then will return to Germany, and he will be stationed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center for his first nursing assignment.
While he has been in the Baltimore area, Murray has tried to educate his extended family and others in his community about the need to take preventive measures to avoid health problems. His oldest brother died several years ago from AIDS-related heart failure, and he sees others around him living unhealthy lifestyles.
As always, Murray feels compelled to help. And by educating others, he hopes they will be able to help themselves after he has left. There has been much talk about healthcare reform in the U.S., but Murray says the problems that confront his community need to be dealt with immediately.
We cant wait around for healthcare reform to come, Murray says. While were waiting around, were going to die.
Tom Clegg is a member of the editorial team at Nursing Spectrum.