Community involvement is nothing new for Lhorna Murray. Yet her leadership soared after Charleena Lyles – a mother of four who lived in the apartment directly above Lhorna – was shot and killed by Seattle police when investigating her burglary complaint in June, 2017.
“That was a real wake-up call,” Lhorna says. “One of the news reporters asked me, ‘Who do you blame for this?’ I blamed everybody. The ball was dropped by everybody, including me as a neighbor.” So that’s when Lhorna – an artist who fashions jewelry and metal sculpture – really got busy.
Lhorna lives with her young adult daughter and teenage son in the Brettler Family Place apartments on Solid Ground’s Sand Point Housing (SPH) campus located in Seattle’s Magnuson Park. After the Charleena Lyles shooting, Lhorna and another Brettler resident knocked on every door in the building, leading to the formation of Stronger Together Citizens Committee, a forum for SPH residents.
She successfully organized residents to lobby City Hall for more resources. And after she began voicing concerns about how SPH children seem to be disproportionately slotted into special education, she joined the Sand Point Elementary PTA and now serves as their Outreach Co-Coordinator. She also joined the boards of Magnuson Park’s Advisory Committee and Community Center, and Sand Point Arts & Cultural Exchange (SPACE) – which provides exhibit space and enrichment programs for diverse artists and recently launched a low-power community radio station.
Extending her activism beyond the Sand Point community, Lhorna took on the role of Outreach Coordinator and co-organizer for January 2018’s Seattle Women’s March 2.0 focused on equal rights for women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community – and she adds, “After the women’s march, I formed a nonprofit with my fellow march organizers to address the issues facing marginalized communities throughout the year.”
What motivates her? “I don’t just want to be a complainer,” says Lhorna, a Brettler Family Place resident since 2014. “I want to have conversations and hammer out solutions.”
“How do you stop poverty and racism? When you stop treating people like they’re all the same and ask them what they need.” –Lhorna Murray, Sand Point Housing resident & activist
Joining various boards and organizations, Lhorna quickly found out that “decisions were being made for us, at every level, and we weren’t at the table. It was always well-intentioned, but that can be the worst kind,” she notes, adding that “issues that affect our community were not being addressed.”
Another challenge Lhorna encountered is one-size-fits-all social programs. “This creates a disparity,” she says. “How do you stop poverty and racism? When you stop treating people like they’re all the same and ask them what they need.”
For example, Seattle Parks & Recreation sponsors the Rock the Park program for school-age kids living on the SPH campus. Lhorna points out that children from affluent neighborhoods near Magnuson Park can’t participate, even if they want to. And families living in the Park often don’t have financial resources to participate in the school-age or family activities offered inside the Park or in the broader community.
“I’m really proud of Solid Ground, because they are going to have a representative of the community that they serve on their Board,” says Lhorna, who is on the list of residents being recruited to join the Solid Ground Board of Directors later this year.
Energetic, passionate and outspoken, Lhorna sometimes has “fundamental disagreements” with the organizations she’s involved with. That only motivates her to focus on areas where their agendas align.
“Just like people who live outside the Park have a lot of misconceptions about us, I had a lot of misconceptions,” she says – about the neighborhoods around the park, community organizations, and city government. Despite the fact that Charleena Lyles’ death caused significant trauma, “a couple of really good things have happened,” she says. “It allowed us to build some relationships with people in the broader community.
“I had to take some personal responsibility,” Lhorna adds philosophically when asked to recap her recent experiences. “Being involved in all these community organizations taught me that things aren’t solved overnight. It’s a journey.”