Expected to die at birth, Ashley Murphy is now a Scarborough rising star

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Expected to die at birth, Ashley Murphy is now a Scarborough rising star

Scarborough Walk of Fame honours young activist born with HIV

NEWS OCT 24, 2018 BY MIKE ADLER   TORONTO.COM

Ashley Rose Murphy is receiving one of the first Rising Star Awards from the Scarborough Walk of Fame. - Dan Pearce/Metroland

Ashley Rose Murphy has been honoured with one of the first Rising Stars Award from the Scarborough Walk of Fame during a ceremony at Centennial College. - Dan Pearce/Metroland

Ashley Rose Murphy is receiving one of the first Rising Star Awards from the Scarborough Walk of Fame. - Dan Pearce/Metroland

Ashley Rose Murphy is receiving one of the first Rising Star Awards from the Scarborough Walk of Fame. - Dan Pearce/Metroland

Born in Scarborough with HIV and fetal alcohol syndrome, Ashley Rose Murphy was expected to die.

This was in 1998, when HIV “was seen as a death sentence.” She was moved to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, where “the doctor said I had no more than a month to live,” Murphy says.

She proved that doctor wrong, and she’s determined to show the world she can lead a healthy life with HIV.

At 20, the York University theatre student can say she’s spoken in front of royalty and heads of state, and shared a stage with actress Charlize Theron more than once.

CHARLIZE THERON

Two years ago, Murphy addressed the United Nations General Assembly while on a panel with Theron.

“It was really awesome, actually,” Murphy said. “We were all in this squared room where they had all of our names lit up.”

In grade school, though, she wasn’t invited to many sleepovers.

At age seven, her adoptive parents told her she had HIV. Murphy had no idea what that was, but suddenly all those medicines and trips to doctors “just kind of made sense.”

Her parents didn’t want Murphy to tell people outside her family; they were afraid she’d face bullying, she said.

“I just didn’t listen to my parents, and I told everybody.”

Other parents started expressing concerns to Murphy’s school, and she’s still grateful people there stood up for her.

“My principal said, ‘If you don’t want your children to be in the same school as her, leave the school.’”

Murphy’s confidence only grew.

At age 10, she started speaking publicly. At first, it was just to peers, other HIV-positive children, but Murphy realized she loved speaking. She wanted to educate people and break the stigma of HIV and AIDS, so it can be stopped.

“That’s always been my sole purpose,” Murphy said on Oct. 18, as she and three other young women — Yasmin Rajabi, Ravicha Ravinthiran and Delicia Raveenthrarajan — prepared to accept the Scarborough Walk of Fame’s first-ever Rising Star Awards.

                                                                           RISING STAR AWARD

Murphy said when she met Kweku Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, he told her, “‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but you are exactly what we need for fighting HIV and AIDS.”

Based on stereotypes, many think of people living in Africa when they imagine a someone living with HIV, she said.

“I challenge that stereotype because I am a white teenager from Toronto. HIV doesn’t discriminate; anyone can get it.”

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Onstage, Murphy tells young people to “rock” their differences with others and to “own them.”

Her public speaking hasn’t always been easy.

Once, she gave a radio interview in Vancouver before a WE Day event. Before it was over, Twitter trolls were saying nasty things about her. But she said this didn't both her. 

But they also said things about her birth mother, who lived a troubled life in Scarborough and passed away when Murphy was 12.

Murphy said she channeled whatever anger she felt into her speech.

“You can be yourself, no matter what. You may have HIV, but that’s not your whole story, that’s not who you are.”

by Mike Adler

Mike Adler is a reporter with toronto.com and Metroland Media Toronto.