Frederick Murphy grew up in a small Southern town, raised by a single mother who worked nights as a nurse to provide for her family. Even as a little boy, he did what he could to help, getting himself and his sister ready for school when his mother came home tired.
Those early years shaped him as a man. “Helping others was ingrained in my nature,” he says. “Between looking after my sister and watching my mom take care of people, I think that’s why I’m in the position I’m in today.”
As director of counseling at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, Murphy spends his days helping students flourish. When campus life becomes bumpy, he listens, advises and guides as students learn who they are and grapple with who they might become.
Through a four-year, $3.4 million grant from The Duke Endowment, Murphy is working with staff from Davidson College, Duke University and Furman University to collaborate on increasing student resilience on each campus. Campus leaders began the project in 2013 by designing a research model; the focus now is on developing interventions. The four schools have unique cultures and priorities, but the effort is allowing them to work together on an issue that affects young adults in the Carolinas and beyond.
Murphy struggled as a student himself. Education wasn’t a priority; as long as he stayed out of trouble, his mother was pleased. When he left home – the first in his family to attend college – he had to work hard to catch up, accepting support along the way.
It was at Tennessee State University that he grasped his potential. As an African American man in a profession that attracts mostly white women, he willingly wears the title of role model.
He sees life as a winding road, with bends that can slow us down as we aim in another direction. When he’s not on campus, he attends lectures at museums. He studies African American history and reads about American Indians and the women’s suffrage movement. He’s a movie buff.
If you don’t feel differently about yourself from one semester to the next, he tells students, you aren’t growing. He urges them to enjoy their journey – and come to him if they can’t make it alone.
Susan L. McConnell
Director, Higher Education