21 minute read

Cover Story: Lodriguez V. Murray '04

Lodriguez V. Murray '04

Lodriguez V. Murray '04

Photo by Spencer Humphrey Photography

In a 20-minute span of time, Lodriguez Murray ’04 has spoken to seven college presidents and two members of Congress. If I hadn’t watched it happen myself, I might not believe it, but I did. This isn’t a typical day, but when you’re the Vice President for Government Affairs for the United Negro College Fund, nothing is ever really ’ordinary’. Working closely with Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, members of Congress as well as HBCU presidents, Murray and UNCF CEO Michael Lomax ’68 secured funding for a dozen HB- CUs at a critical time in their fiscal history.

Advertisement

The story of how this former Legislative Aide, a first generation high school and college graduate, became the youngest VP in UNCF history is an interesting one, and more telling is how he’s gained the trust of DC power brokers and luminaries as diverse as Ted Kennedy to John Boehner to Valerie Jarrett, all while maintaining an impeccable reputation.

Since Murray has assumed his role at the UNCF, HBCU spending (passed by Congress) has increased by over $109 million (combining FY 18 & 19).

WAMM: What’s the view from your office window? LVM: I see Georgia Avenue. The beginning of Howard University, as it stretches up Georgia Avenue and much of the new construction that’s taken place to revitalize this area steeped in African American tradition and culture. We’ve been in this building for five years. We’re part of the Shaw/Howard METRO station.

WAMM: You are in a unique position, working for the United Negro College Fund, in an exciting time, working for this 75-year-old organization. While there is construction and development going up around the neighborhood that you work in, your presence at the UNCF is innovative and a groundbreaking hire. To your knowledge, how many people have held your role before? LVM: At the VP level, I’m on the second. Prior to that, there was a director role, and there were several people in that role, but in terms of Vice President of Government Affairs, I’m the second.

WAMM: In the last 30 years, how many have there been? LVM: That’s a good question. The biggest name to hold the position is a guy named Bud Blakey. So, Bud, whom I did know early in my career was a gentleman who was well known and respected as the voice of legislative concerns in the HBCU community. Folks were not going to alter the Higher Education Act provisions for HBCUs without talking to Bud Blakey for two reasons. He served as a staffer for one of the education committees, and it was his time being associated with the UNCF. All the way up until his passing, he was a luminary in the community.

WAMM: How does a young man from Augusta, GA, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science become a Vice President at the United Negro College Fund, just 14 years after graduating from college? LVM: Serendipity and specializing in a subject area that I have a passion for. When you have a passion, I have

a personal belief that passions are given by God and so when you feel strongly about something, that comes from above. So, I have a passion for HBCUs, and it feels like this has been a path that was plotted out for me. I went to Upward Bound and other summer programs at Paine College in Augusta, GA a UNCF

liberating concept in and of itself. So, you take that, and you take a career where you get to focus in on something you have a passion for and really cut your teeth on it.

member school. Then I had the pleasure of going to Morehouse College and graduating from there, another UNCF member school, but the graduation and the paying for it were all possible because of a UNCF scholarship. I was a Toyota Scholar from the UNCF starting in the year 2000. That scholarship at the time was $10,000 a year. I was a first-generation college student and a first-generation high school graduate. And so, that leap was a tougher hurdle to cross. So, UNCF went a long way, $10,000 every year to making my education possible, and making it possible for me to be debt from college before the age of 30, which is a

Before I came to UNCF, I was a lobbyist at the Health and Medical Counsel of Washington, HMCW. A large part of the clientele were

historically black health schools, the medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, veterinary medicine schools of the HBCU community. So, for eleven and a half years before I came to UNCF, I had the pleasure of representing that community, so I was doing HBCU policy before I came to the UNCF, so I’ve been preparing for the opportunity in this role for quite some time.

WAMM: What was your specialty at Davidson Fine Arts School in Augusta, GA? LVM: I did a number of fine arts; drama, studio art, sketching and writing. A certain percentage of your day had to be focused on the

fine arts.

WAMM: Why did you choose Morehouse? LVM: My fifth-grade teacher Barbara Pulliam, looked at me one day and said, "You look like a Morehouse Man". So, I went home that day, and it was before the internet. I picked up the encyclopedia, a second hand World Book one at that, and I read about it that night, and I decided that I was going to go to Morehouse based upon what the World Book Encyclopedia said about Morehouse.

My first visit to Morehouse was with the Paine College Upward Bound, on a college tour, and I remember when I stepped off the bus, I felt something that I’d never felt before. When I was applying to college, I knew we didn’t have the funds to attend Morehouse, but I’d received full scholarships or presidential scholarships from six other institutions, but I was going to Morehouse. I was very industrious, and I would sit at my typewriter, and I would write the companies that my parents did business with, and I would write them and tell them "My name is Lodriguez Murray, and I am graduating from Davidson High School this year. My plan is to go to Morehouse College in the fall. My parents get xyz goods or services from you, and I want to know if you have a scholarship that I can apply for." From that, I was able to cobble together a number of small scholarships and grants from $250 to a few thousand dollars each. I cobbled them with a little support from Morehouse. Then part way through freshman year when the financial aid lines had gone down, I remember going to see my cluster coordinator, Ms. Jackson, and telling her that

I wanted to tell my mother for Mother’s Day that I didn’t have any more loans, and she told me to go outside and check the wall outside the office and see if there were any scholarships that I fit the profile for. And, I applied to three and I remember not thinking about it anymore and went home for the break. Before classes started, my mother called me and asked if I’d applied for a UNCF scholarship. I told her I had, and she said that I’d received a scholarship for $10,000, and I knew that amount wiped out my additional need.

WAMM: This was your freshman year. How did you know to be that proactive for yourself? LVM: I knew that if I wanted something, I should work hard to do it. I didn’t have any guidance, but I knew that if I wanted something, that none of the rest of us in my family had achieved that I had to go and do something that none of us had done, so I knew I had to be industrious because I didn’t want to take money away from the family. I’m the oldest of four, and at the time there were three more siblings, and I didn’t want to take any finances or opportunities away from them. I had to go and find the money, and that’s what I did.

WAMM: What all were you involved in at Morehouse? LVM: Ha. The first couple of years I was in the Otis Moss Oratorical Contest, I was director of planning and programming for the SGA, and that became Homecoming Director my sophomore year, first semester sophomore year. I was involved in New Student Orientation. My junior year, I was treasurer of the SGA and I would go to the senate meetings. I was an executive branch guy.

WAMM: Were there any other clubs or organizations that you were involved with while at Morehouse? LVM: Of note? Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Incorporated.

WAMM: I recall you being a resident assistant as well though. LVM: Yes, I was a resident assistant in my last three years; two years at LLC and one at Mays.

WAMM: What brought you to Washington, D.C.? LVM: While I was a student, I had very good internships, and one in the office of Georgia governor Roy Barnes. By senior year I realized that I had not done any time in Washington. I watched CSPAN and the national news and so I learned the names of the politicians from all over the nation. My senior year, I decided that after I graduated, I wanted to intern in DC. So, I contacted all of the members of congress that were representative of my areas in Georgia; the members of congress in the Atlanta area, the two U.S. Senators and the two members who represented Augusta. Only one office ever replied, and it was the office of a white republican male who represented the northern area of Augusta, and we did a phone interview and they decided from the phone interview that of the seven interns that had that summer, I was the only one who would be paid. That was extremely important because I had no means. So, I came to Washington on a wing and a prayer to intern for Congressman Charlie Norwood, a dentist from Augusta.

While I was working on the internship program, I was a little bit at a disadvantage because several interns come knowing they want to work on the Hill full time. They print their resumes and take

full advantage at lunch time to network and pass them around. I didn’t know about that whole culture of Capitol Hill. I just delved fully into the work of the office and asked for more to do. And I would often write. Congressman Norwood had a policy that if you called, emailed, faxed or wrote the office, you received a response that was unique to you from him. So that involved a lot of writing from the office, and I volunteered to do some of the writing. I would stay late, and I would come in early to write. Unbeknownst to me, the Congressman and his wife would see me working late. Eventually, that summer, the Chief of Staff asked what I was going to do when the summer was over. I didn’t know, I assumed I would go home and teach. The Chief of Staff asked why I didn’t stay in Washington and work for Charlie. I responded that if the Congressman wanted me to work for him, he’d ask me himself. So, one day, I was asked to take some mail over to the Congressman’s apartment, which was nearby and he and his wife asked me to sit down, and they said "Lodriguez, we understand that if we want you to stay, we’ll have to ask you ourselves" and they did, and I accepted. They asked me to commit at least a year as a Special Assistant to the Congressman. Later in the fall, when the Congressman released the information that in 1998, he was diagnosed with the disease Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis or IPF which is a gradual hardening of the lungs. He had a lung transplant that fall, and the idea was that if I stayed, I could be his ’all the time’ aide.

I went everywhere the Congressman went. I had clearance from the Speaker (Dennis Hastert) to go on the floor

(of the House of Representatives) anytime, which was rare for a staffer. I went to every committee hearing. I sat in, and took the meetings that the Congressman had. I had a very unique perspective where I saw how he made his decisions. I saw how people presented their facts to him. I saw how he related what he was doing back to the district and the people he represented. And so, from that very unique perspective is how I learned how Washington works. And it has served me very well since then in my interactions with members of congress on behalf of the HBCU community.

WAMM: Your Washington experience was basically a June and July. How daunting a task was that to be working on the Hill then so soon? How did you deal with the learning curve and when did you start to feel comfortable there? LVM: It was daunting, but it was one of a long line of daunting experiences. Coming to Morehouse and knowing you’re the first one to go to college, that’s daunting. Graduating high school and knowing you’re the first one to graduate from high school in your lineage to do that, that’s daunting. Things don’t become less daunting, but you learn how to deal with them. You learn that you can’t be overwhelmed by the moment if you want to seize the moment, so you learn how to channel those emotions the right way.

Every time I get a chance to walk into the Capitol or the White House or our building here on Georgia Avenue, I feel a sense of awe that I get a chance to do what I get a chance to do for a living and I get a chance to help make life better for people who are just like I was just a few years ago. I became a vice president for an organization, thirteen years after I got my last

scholarship from thirteen years ago.

WAMM: While working for Congressman Norwood, what committees was he a member of, what positions did he champion and who did you work with as a result of that? LVM: He was on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which is considered a powerful committee. 60% of the legislation that comes to the House floor comes through that committee, so they deal with healthcare, technology and all types of other matters. He was a sub-committee chairman for the full-committee, and he was also on the Education Committee. He was a sub-committee chairman there, as well.

I got a chance to work with our former governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal. We went to Iraq and Afghanistan together, traveling to seven countries in nine days. I got a chance to know him very well. I got a chance to know former Speaker (of the House John) Boehner very well.

There’s a funny story on one of the first days after Congressman Norwood’s lung transplant, we went to the Education Committee meeting, where Boehner was the chair, and he’s a larger than life personality. And the Congressman was using a scooter to get around and he had oxygen tanks as well. Part of my job was to coordinate all of that and to make it easy for him. And as he was making his way to the anti-room to the dais, Chairman Boehner was about to light a cigarette, and I knew that one could not light a cigarette around oxygen tanks. But here I am, at age 22, and here he is the chairman of the committee, and so as the Congressman passed by, I waited a few steps behind and I said, "Mr. Chairman, good

morning. Would you please not light your cigarette while Congressman Norwood is around?" Boehner looked at me, his eyes got really big and he darted away into his office. And all the staff that worked for him were aflutter. So, when we got back to Congressman Norwood’s office in our building, we’d received several calls from Boehner’s staff saying, "I don’t know who this new guy is that y’all have, but I think this might be his last day. He told the chairman not to light his cigarette and the chairman walked away quickly."

So, they were really riding me, and I was downtrodden for the rest of the day, mostly looking down at my shoes. I went with the Congressman when he went to go vote later that afternoon. Congressman Norwood sat to the Speaker’s far left, and I sat behind him. And there, I was, just looking down at my Bostonians and I heard a voice say, ’Hey young man’, and I looked up, and it was Chairman Boehner, and so I shuffled over there on the House floor and he says ’Hey, what’s your name?’ I said ’Lodriguez Murray’, he replied ’John Boehner’. I then said, ’Nice to meet you Mr. Chairman, but I know who you are.’ He said, ’You’re the young man that asked me not to light that cigarette earlier today?’ I said ’I am.’ He said, ’Thank you. I shouldn’t have been smoking around Charlie anyway, and I wanted to let you know that I appreciate that.’ He then asked me about where I was from, and we started to talk and formed a connection that lasted all the way through his Speakership. And it goes to show you that sometimes you have to speak up and do your job, even when it’s unpopular even if other folks around you don’t understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Murray at a UNCF board meeting, showing congressionally passed funding increases for HBCUs

Murray at a UNCF board meeting, showing congressionally passed funding increases for HBCUs

WAMM: How long did you work for Congressman Norwood and what was your final role? LVM: My position the whole time I was there was Special Assistant, and I was there two and a half years. As a matter of fact, he kind of set up the next role. I think he knew his passing was imminent. So, what he would do was he would introduce me to other lobbyists for Georgia Power, for Coca Cola. And he had an honorary degree from the Morehouse School of Medicine, because he’d worked with Morehouse alum, class of ’54 Louis Sullivan former HHS Secretary and former Morehouse School of Medicine president on some major legislation. So, he introduced the concept of me working for that firm and once I got there, it was not soon after that he passed. As a matter of fact, for a little background, there’s an Associated Press article about how we worked. The honorary degree that he received from the Morehouse School of Medicine, when I first started, he knew I went to Morehouse, and his first words to me were "I’m a Morehouse Man too. I have an honorary degree from the Morehouse School of Medicine."

He would always joke because at the time there was Sanford

Bishop, Major Owens and one moment at the elevator where the four of us were there, and only the four of us, and this white republican congressman said, "Look here, four good Morehouse Men!" And Sanford Bishop and Major Owens got off that elevator as confused as they could be.

When I first started, he had me call the Augusta office and have his Morehouse School of Medicine degree hung equal to his Georgetown Dental degree. And the Associated Press wrote about that when he passed. When his wife read that in the story, she had his honorary degree sent to me, and we still speak regularly.

WAMM: What was your biggest takeaway from your time working on The Hill? LVM: That the members of congress are people. You have to relate to them as people. They’re not robots. They have busy schedules, but they are people. And when you relate to them where they are, you can get the best results.

WAMM: You leave The Hill and head to the Health Medical Counsel of Washington. How difficult was the learning curve when you entered the world of

lobbying? LVM: It was new information, so a steep learning curve. But at that point, I had watched how any number of lobbyists worked with members at such a close range being with Congressman Norwood all the time, that I understood the purpose in how they did what they did.

WAMM: Who were you clients at the Health and Medical Counsel of Washington? LVM: Morehouse School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles, Howard University Health Enterprise, Tuskegee’s Veterinary School, FAMU’s Pharmacy School, the Association of Minority Health Professions schools, the American Lung Association among others. I had about twelve clients, which represented a third of the firm.

WAMM: How many of those clients did you land? LVM: Most of the time it was very collaborative. But landing? When we had Talladega, I landed them. FAMU’s Pharmacy and Tuskegee’s Vet School I landed them. The challenge in that role is more the retention. We were celebrated as being one of the top firms in the city that once folks started with us, they didn’t want to leave. Our retention was at a higher percentage than almost any firm in Washington, D.C.

We provided such a sound deal and competent service for clients that they didn’t want to leave.

WAMM: What was your career highlight at the Health and Medical Counsel of Washington? LVM: It was getting provisions included in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, that elevated the National Center on Minority Health

and Health Disparities at the NIH at the level of an Institute. At NIH, there are three levels, there are institutes, which are the highest, there’s center which is the second highest and then there are offices. So, the division of NIH that dealt with our issues; health disparities, why do African Americans die at a higher rate from diseases and conditions than their white counterparts? That portion of NIH was only at the second highest level. Getting those issues elevated to an institute level, the highest level of NIH, as well as creating offices of minority health at all six of the public health agencies at the Department of Health and Human Services. That was the largest career achievement while at HMCW, because it elevated the concerns of our people in health, equivalent to anything else that could be in health. Equivalent to heart disease, to other transmitted diseases. The concerns of our community were finally equal to the concerns of any other affected community.

WAMM: What kind of work did you do with Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy? LVM: He was the chair of the Health Education Labor and Pensions committee or HELP, and all the issues of minorities in health care went through that committee. I remember the first time I met him, I took Dr. David Satcher ’63, former Surgeon General, former president of Meharry, former president of Morehouse School of Medicine. And the meeting was just like things I’d read about; he had the two dogs running around the office, brushing up against you and he’s a deeply engaged individual. He obviously knew Dr. Satcher very well, but while he didn’t have to do it, he took the time out in the meeting to ask me about myself and to learn my role in the process. He wanted

to know my thoughts on the issues. Eventually, he had a hearing on my thoughts on how these programs should be reauthorized, and this was during the period of time that he had brain cancer. He was still actively involved and helped to shepherd those activities to passage.

WAMM: By the time you’d met Senator Kennedy, you’d also met well known pillars and stalwarts of Congress who write and pass law. How does it feel to be in those rooms? LVM: Being awe struck never subsides, but it can’t get in the way of the work because why you’re there is bigger than how you feel at the time.

WAMM: You started on the Hill ’04 before the election and then you went to the Health and Medical Counsel of Washington in ’07 before the election. How did things change after November 2008? How did D.C. change? LVM: The way that business was done on the Hill shifted a lot because how lobbyists could do their work changed around that time period in ’07 when then Senator Obama was still in the Senate, then after the 2008 election, there was a shift because so many new Democrats were brought in, and then you have to realize or decide, how do you reconnect when all the players are different. How do you rev up? You prepare for the transition of administrations, you go meet with them, you talk to them and you provide them with background and document and document. When administrations change, you will find, it’s the busiest time in Washington, D.C.

WAMM: So, the peaceful transfer of power is very busy? LVM: To be peaceful it’s busy,

because policy makers, decision makers need information and you have to gear it towards them and the doing of that is a hurried endeavor.

WAMM: So, despite the changes in D.C., you were still able to navigate, and work and be successful. What do you attribute that to? LVM: The issues that I’ve had the pleasure to work on are big enough issues where I don’t think that they’re partisan. I think that the education of first-generation college students at campuses that are mission driven to improve the lives of African Americans is not a democratic ideal or a republican ideal, it’s an American ideal and it should be treated like that. I approach it that way, I present it that way, and I think that policy and decision makers respond to that.

WAMM: You’ve been at the UNCF since October 2017. How has your tenure been there? LVM: I think it’s been pretty good. We’ve experienced some success. Fiscal year 2018 appropriations package saw a 12% increase in HBCU related spending. That allows our schools to be stronger and the students we serve to be in a much, much better position. That’s all due in large part because of the UNCF’s work. Included in that have been many line items that our schools really utilize to make their institutions better for the students. Knowing that those increases in my short time here, is one of the things that’s been a great success in a very short period of time.

WAMM: What do you think were the main factors in helping you to achieve these increases? LVM: Bi-partisanship. It’s a willingness to not count anyone

out in terms of working with them and partnering with them. As long as we can get our issues in front of decision makers, then we have a strong opportunity to get good outcomes and we’re always working to get our issues in front of the decision makers both in the administration and on the Hill.

WAMM: The UNCF is led by our dear Morehouse brother, Dr. Michael L. Lomax ’68. How special has that been for you? What have you learned from him and what have you learned about the awesome task that he undertakes on behalf of the member institutions? LVM: I think Dr. Lomax is one of the most thoughtful individuals I’ve ever met in my career and it’s a pleasure for me to work alongside him for all the work that I do, and to have a constant interaction with him because I learn the art of thinking from him. It’s a bit sometimes like the great story, ’Who Moved My Cheese’. There are two characters there, ’Sniff’ and ’Scurry’. What I learn from him is that sometimes one must sniff, and not immediately scurry. Sniffing and not scurrying underscores the ability to think through your desired conclusion, to achieve it.

WAMM: What is the major takeaway you’ve learned in your career path, since graduating 15 years ago? LVM: There’s no substitute for persistence. I think there are folks with more education than I have. There are folks who were better advantaged than I am, but you can’t put a value on how dogged or persistent or willing to stick to something a person is. Eventually a persistent person will break through.

WAMM: What advice would you give your May 2004 self?

LVM: Persistence is the key.

WAMM: What sartorial advice would you give your May 2004 self? LVM: Buy shoe trees.

WAMM: How did Morehouse prepare life post-college? LVM: The old Dr. Mays quote about whatever you do, do it so well that no man living, no man dead, no man yet to be born could do it better and when they’re looking for someone, they have to look at your resume...that mindset which is more of an approach of self-confident belief in one’s work product, has served me so well. And then it’s the network of men that I’ve had the chance to get to know. I’ve had the chance to get to know some great Morehouse Men. Had I not gone to the College, it may have not ever happened.

Dr. Lou Sullivan, the first Morehouse Man to ever be in a President’s cabinet, worked and worked with him hand and glove. It was a tremendous honor. Dr. David Satcher, only Morehouse Man to be the Surgeon General of the United States and the Assistant Secretary for Health at the same time...huge. Dr. Michael Lomax, president of the UNCF, and others. It’s such a big deal, in any small way to be linked to them at all, and then work with them in a substantive way, to achieve results.

WAMM: Let’s switch the spotlight to you. You’re a natty dresser. Who or what are your biggest style influencers? What inspires your choices in that regard? LVM: The Duke of Windsor. Capitol Hill is a conservative place, and to a great degree Brooks Brothers.

WAMM: You’ve been a generous and consistent donor to Morehouse. Why do you give to Morehouse, and why do you think

others should give to Morehouse consistently? LVM: I give to Morehouse because I know now from a unique perspective that our schools need the resources and I know that as an alum that wants to one day be a man in a position for a large gift, that I should give while moving in that direction, because if all of us gave, then our institution would be so much stronger, and I want the Morehouse for the next generation to be so much better than what it was for me. And while I do appreciate what it did for me, but for it to be stronger I have to do my part, and I can’t wait on anyone else to do their part, I have to do my part now.

For Morehouse to be what we want, giving is the only way. I don’t know if we can proudly wear our shirts and write our resumes if we aren’t giving our finances to make our school better than it was when we went there.

WAMM: In addition to your giving, how are you currently engaged with Morehouse College? LVM: I definitely mentor a number of men, primarily members of our Pi Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, but definitely young men who are brothers and friends of mine. I give of my time and my energy, and I help give them the advice that was not readily available to me when I was their age.

WAMM: In June 2018, some decisions were made that greatly impacted a number of UNCF member schools financially. Funding was made available to 8 schools. Please fill me in about what happened there. LVM: UNCF worked hard to make sure that relief was given to a number of HBCUs that were in need and to get legislation passed in March of 2018 that provided that

Murray speaks at Bennett College after receiving recognition for Bennett's inclusion in the federal deferment program for HBCUs

Murray speaks at Bennett College after receiving recognition for Bennett's inclusion in the federal deferment program for HBCUs

Hardy Event Photo.com

relief.

The March 2018 deferment authority was passed with record speed-- in only 52 days. I have never seen anything focused on a minority population pass and become law so fast!

In September 2018, we convinced Congress that $10 million was not enough. More than the original eight HBCU institutions needed relief. Thirteen actually qualified. On our recommendation, Congress doubled the funding only six months later to $20 million. So, in less than a year, Congress spent $30 million on this one HBCU relief effort that we wrote and championed.

Since I’ve been in the job, HBCU spending (passed by Congress) has been increased by over $109

million (combining FY 18 & 19). Just this week, the House of Representatives is voting on possible additional increases, again based on the recommendations we made.

I’m just so ecstatic that a number of institutions will be stronger for their student’s sake, and I’m proud to have played a small part in that.

WAMM: And what was that small part? LVM: Listening to the concerns of our member schools, drafting the legislation and making the pitch to the Congress and the administration that was successful and allowed the multi-million-dollar deal to be included in legislation. And working hand in glove with Dr. Lomax to do it.

WAMM: And what was the total

amount that was appropriated for the 8 schools? LVM: It will be $10,000,000 for each of the next six fiscal years.

WAMM: And is this unprecedented? LVM: There is no precedent. This was groundbreaking.

WAMM: What is your favorite place to eat in Washington? LVM: The Senate Dirksen Buffet.

WAMM: What does Lodriguez Murray do to unwind or relax? LVM: Go to church and pray for the things I can’t change for myself.