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IN MEMORIAM: Tribute to the Ministry, Life, and Legacy of Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Rev. Murray also sparked and inspired something much closer to home. He inspired me, but he directly mobilized my brother and friend Rev. Whitlock to lead his newest church initiative back then – something he boldly called FAME Renaissance. Just some of the results of FAME Renaissance and Dr. Murray’s most trusted senior team, which featured (Rev.) Mark Whitlock, Rev. Dr. Steve Johnson, and Peggy Hill included 300 Jobs for teenagers at Disneyland every year for 10 years! 3000 jobs, a Fame Renaissance loan fund, a Fame Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, a Fame Renaissance Transportation Program that transported 1,000 000 people annually; a Fame Renaissance environmental protection program, which saved 1.5 billion square acres of water; a Fame Renaissance Commercial Office Building of 75,000 square feet; a Fame Incubator Program – which trained 1000 entrepreneurs and started 400 small businesses, a Fame Renaissance Home Loan Program, which funded five hundred homes, a FAME Housing had affordable housing projects of 700 units with low to moderate tenants, encompassing seven buildings. And so much more.

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Rev. Dr. Cecil ‘Chip’ Murray
Rev. Dr. Cecil ‘Chip’ Murray.

By John Hope Bryant

How do you salute a man who walked amongst the angels? You start by making sure that history accurately reflects his name. This is my modest contribution to the telling of his vital history and legacy.

Rev. Dr. Cecil ‘Chip’ Murray changed my life. Life, literally.

He was more than a mentor, a supporter, or a good friend to a ‘young man coming up.‘ He was, in every way—particularly during my evolving years as a young man in the making—my spiritual father.

Rev. Murray and I met originally through my brother and friend Mark Whitlock, now Rev. Mark Whitlock, who leads one of the three largest AME churches in the nation – Reid Temple AME Church in Maryland. Back then, he was an executive in the making, first at a property title company and then a banker at Wells Fargo. But what Mark and I knew then was that Rev. Murray had already decided, in his spirit, that our lives would be transformed into a life’s calling.

Very seldom do you meet someone who you believe is ‘otherworldly.’ Someone who you genuinely believe walks their talk and might even qualify as a saint on this earth. A true prophet from on high, representing God almighty right here on earth. That there is one Rev. Dr. Cecil ‘Chip’ Murray.

It is impossible to communicate in an Op-Ed the power and transformational impact that this man had on my life, but I will try by telling you a couple of intimate stories about Dr. Murray.

When I first showed up at the church, the Rodney King Riots of 1992 had engulfed the city, and everyone important at the time seemed to be sitting in Rev. Murray’s office.

This included the governor (the Republican Pete Wilson), the mayor (the legendary Democrat Mayor Tom Bradley, also an early mentor of mine), civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Catholic bishop, the Jewish Rabbi, the Muslim Imam, and every other whose-who from the city had crammed into this one man’s office—all seeking his approval and wise counsel.

As a young man of 26, whom Rev. Murray had reluctantly agreed to mentor, I was invited to come in and take a seat, even though I had zero role, power, or responsibility.

One might say, I was actually in the way. But Rev. Murray saw something in me and invited me in to take a quiet seat in the corner when I showed up at his office, looking for a way to help following the citywide unrest. It was after and in many ways because of this meeting that I ultimately founded Operation HOPE.

Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray and John Hope Bryant.

Reverend Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray and John Hope Bryant.

Rev. Murray told me to take my business skills (and my high contacts in local finance) and put them to work ‘rebuilding our community.’ Within the week, on May 5th, 1992, I organized the first Bankers Bus Tour through a still smoldering South Central Los Angeles. The result of this first tour was a commitment from the assembled bankers to fund the rebuilding of Handler’s Pharmacy, a Black-owned pharmacy business located at Western Ave and 42nd Street.

That was the first commitment to ‘rebuild’ by anyone and involved leaders from government, community, and the private sector. It also focused on a quality that later became my strength and global calling card – outcomes and results. A focus on Ph.D and Ph.Do too. I ended up founding Operation HOPE in 1992, with a $61,000 grant requested by then-Democratic LA Mayor Tom Bradley to then-Republican President George W. Bush. It was an SBA 7J grant made on a bi-partisan basis. This also became a quality I would find useful for 30 years of ‘getting stuff done.’

On the 10th anniversary of the Rodney King Riots—22 years ago today—Rev. Murray and First AME Church partnered to host then-US President George W. Bush in South Central Los Angeles to salute the rebuilding. They were joined by 700 leaders from across the Southern California community, inclusive of both major political parties and all racial groups. Classic Cecil ‘Chip’ Murray.

Today, Operation HOPE is the largest financial literacy coaching, counseling, and economic empowerment organization nationwide, with 300 full-time HOPE Inside offices in 40+ states. Its partners have invested more than $4.5 billion into our communities, raising credit scores, lowering debt, increasing savings, and creating minority homeowners and small business owners. One Majority Black-owned Business has inspired, created and grown more than 400,000 Black businesses, equal to more than 12% of all black businesses in America. This is the living legacy of Rev. Cecil Murray, which began in 1992.

Rev. Murray also sparked and inspired something much closer to home. He inspired me, but he directly mobilized my brother and friend Rev. Whitlock to lead his newest church initiative back then – something he boldly called FAME Renaissance. Just some of the results of FAME Renaissance and Dr. Murray’s most trusted senior team, which featured (Rev.) Mark Whitlock, Rev. Dr. Steve Johnson, and Peggy Hill included 300 Jobs for teenagers at Disneyland every year for 10 years! 3000 jobs, a Fame Renaissance loan fund, a Fame Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, a Fame Renaissance Transportation Program that transported 1,000 000 people annually; a Fame Renaissance environmental protection program, which saved 1.5 billion square acres of water; a Fame Renaissance Commercial Office Building of 75,000 square feet; a Fame Incubator Program – which trained 1000 entrepreneurs and started 400 small businesses, a Fame Renaissance Home Loan Program, which funded five hundred homes, a FAME Housing had affordable housing projects of 700 units with low to moderate tenants, encompassing seven buildings. And so much more.

Sometimes, you run into someone in life who changes your life and the world we all live in, too. That man, for me, at 26 years old, was The Reverend Dr. Cecil ‘Chip’ Murray.

And this one thing I know, and I hope that you now understand this to be true too – his powerful, one-of-a-kind legacy lives.

John Hope Bryant, founder of Operation HOPE, and spiritual son of Rev. Dr. Cecil ‘Chip’ Murray, can be reached at rachael.doff@operationhopehq.org

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