A story of perseverance, family, love, and a dream.
Part I. The Beginning
My story begins by introducing one of the greatest men I have ever known. From the roots of Manzanilla in Trinidad and Tobago, to serving as an officer with the United Nations during the Six-Day war in Jerusalem, my grandfather, Ortner "Von" Murray, immigrated to the United States/New York in the late 1960s. He was the epitome of a strong family man. He always made it clear that he came to America to not only provide himself the opportunity of living the American dream, but also giving his family "a shot" of fulfilling their biggest dreams. Like my grandfather and my father, I too am a dreamer as it is a part of my DNA.
From what started as a shoe repair store soon transformed to a sneaker store. My dad and my grandfather were the owners of the infamous Von's Sneaker Store and were able to obtain the first Black Owned Nike account. For them to accomplish this in an industry that lacked representation, was AND still is a huge feat. Together they paved the way for many and aside from sneakers, they launched the infamous School Of Hard Knocks streetwear brand.
Growing up in the store was the beginning of my education into the world of having the entrepreneurial spirit. Not only did I grow up admiring the store, I also admired the impact that I saw these two men had in the community of East Elmhurst/Corona, Queens. It was a store, but it was more than just a store. It was a family business that embraced the community and the community embraced us as extended family. I recall spending Saturdays at the store and seeing how customers were welcomed, how the energy was always high, and how PopPop and Dad were treated with such respect and love.
My PopPop was a mentor for many in the community. He provided jobs to young adults in the neighborhood. During the store's busiest Saturdays, he could be found cooking his favorite West Indian dishes in the basement of the store for anybody who walked in the door to enjoy. He poured all of his energy and time in building community in every sense of the word.
Money was not his driving force - In fact, the success of the business simply stemmed from a direct result of the passion, the time, and the energy that was devoted to changing the lives directly and indirectly through entrepreneurship, building relationships, and fashion. My mother always told me, "Have a job you love and you will never work a day in your life".
That's IT - That is my family's blueprint. The LEGACY continues…
Part II. Be the Change You Want To See In The World
While I was born in New York, my family moved to Fayetteville, GA when I was in elementary school. My parents were major influences in my life especially when it came to appreciating black art in music, fashion, entertainment, and many other aspects that are major factors that make up "the culture".
They always pushed me to think critically in subjects regarding black culture that were never included in school curriculum. Our house was filled with Kadir Nelson paintings, Langston Hughes poetry, Black Art coffee table books, and boxes of CDs of classic music and movies. Even at an early age, my parents ensured that I was continuing my knowledge on the roots of my culture, which taught me the importance of self love. As first generation college students, my parents understood that raising black kids in America is arguably one of the hardest things to do, and they did everything they could to ensure they were feeding my brain with nutrients of BLACK substance that school systems could not and do not feed students. These lessons and artistic influences provided me hope at the age of 11 when my school teacher told me that the chances of me even getting a college education were slim.
Then high school came and my life changed forever when I left home for boarding school. The McCallie School was an all boys college-preparatory school located in Chattanooga, TN. At the age of 12, I left my parents and lived on my own in a city where I met more black people by visiting local food kitchens than in the classroom. I met a lot of friends and teachers, who to this day I consider family. However, the reality is that this school, this city, and new culture were not accustomed to the outspoken black kid.
Part III. The 180°
The brand Tradition was started by my father in 2012, when he made collegiate apparel with a heavy emphasis on HBCUs. I remember riding with him to meeting and trade shows, homecomings and campus visits, which exposed me early on to the HBCU life. Because I have always immersed myself in the fashion industry, I grew a deep understanding and a passion for the business at a young age. While I attended various events with my dad, I watched and saw my dad stop and speak with everybody and at the age of 12, this is where I learned the art of networking. My curiosity and admiration of the business allowed me to meet so many people while traveling with Dad. To this day, those relationships have become instrumental in my upbringing, personal and professionally. There were days where I was able to offer my input, but there were many more days where I was just the eager student willing to soak up the wealth of knowledge around me. While I could never fill his shoes, I have learned to be his best student and walk in his footsteps.
My pops is the best business man I know. His Passion, Drive and Enthusiasm sets the bar like no other. While I always wanted to play a role in the business, he always reminded me that first and foremost I needed to master the task of being a student in the business arena. And as any kid should do, I listened, took notes, and waited until it was time for the coach to sub me in.
As I entered my freshman year at Howard University, it was easy getting acclimated to living away from home. However, I once again became the small fish in a BIG pond, but this time the intimidation came from entering the melting pot of Black excellence aka THE MECCA. Leaving a highly conservative institution, to then being placed in an environment of FREEDOM was a 180° paradigm shift. The freedom of how I dressed and how I was able to express myself inside a school environment was for the first time in a VERY long time, my ability to be able to unapologetically be comfortable in my blackness. The confidence builder of Howard University that came along with my passion for the family business allowed me to tap my pops on the shoulder and say "I'm READY".
Well, let's just say, he put me to the test. Dad sent me five pieces of clothing and told me "make it happen". Being a freshman, and not knowing anybody was a challenge, but the friendship of Drew Hall allowed my boys Ethan Iverson and Marko Hooper to see and believe in my vision. Without hesitation they were the photographers behind images of the first on campus photoshoot that were then placed in the Howard University Bookstore that Homecoming season. The feeling of excitement and exhilaration became etched in my path of creativity and entrepreneurship.
Part IV. LHP and New Beginnings
The energy my father put behind his business gave me drive and a sense of purpose. All of these experiences throughout my life have been used as tools for me to craft a better idea of how I can continue the character, richness, and standard of how Murray men carry themselves. Due to my father's health in the year of 2019, it changed the dynamic and momentum of the brand as his health was our family's first priority. In the midst of this year, I knew that I could not give up on the "American Dream" that my late grandfather came to this country to fight for.
It was in these defining moments of my life, I realized it was MY TIME. "It was going to be my "little" thing because I knew that I couldn't be sidelined, sidetracked or sidestepped or put in a damn corner and tucked away or turned to wait another day or moment, because this was MY TIME."
And thus, a new dream was formed, built, and launched - LEGACY HISTORY PRIDE.
Since the age of 12, I knew the power and influence that HBCUs have always had on American Culture and I am working toward creating a brand that is deeper than fashion, more meaningful than clothes; I am here to create a movement.
Since the launch of LHP in December 2019 my team and I have been able to engage over 30,000 people in the Legacy, History and Pride of our culture.
LHP is my American dream that began with my Caribbean grandfather who took a risk and decided to move his family to New York, where his kids and grandkids could enjoy the fruits of what life offered. To my grandfather, Ortner Von Murray, may you continue to Rest in Peace with a smile on your face. PopPop, we love you. We Miss You. Not a day goes by where I don't think of you and everything you have done to get the family where we are now.
To my pops, Gerard, Thank You for believing in me and trusting in me with everything I do. I appreciate you for not always pampering me in this industry or in life, as you never have. You have allowed me to scrape my knee and bump my head in a way that I can grow not only as a business person, but especially as a young man.
I saved the best for last but Thank You mom, Carol. While I always talk about my grandfather and my dad in these stories, YOU have always been the glue to it all. You work tirelessly, consistently, and quietly and your efforts are never unheard. Everyone can know the players on the court but not everyone knows the person who is running sh*t in the back office of the organization. How you carry yourself as a woman, a businesswoman, a mother, and a wife is unmatched. You taught me how to make the impossible possible and NONE of this would be possible without you. The men of the family always have big dreams, but you are always the force behind us to push us when our knees start shaking and we want to stop. You've given me the world and I am doing everything in my power to give it back and then some more. A true women of Delta Sigma Theta.
To my sister, Tayler. I love you. THE GREATEST big sister ever and the greatest Howard Bison I know. You asked mom and dad for me 21 years ago and now you are stuck with me for a lifetime! LOL.
To my grandmother, Jocelyn, who is also one of the strongest women I know. You've given when you had little to give, and when you had it all, you never kept it for yourself. I love you.
Big shout out to the rest of my extended family. My village is no village to mess with. Love y'all to the moon and back.
To Mr. Cook, who was my junior year high school English teacher. One of the first professors in my LIFE who I felt believed in me and continues to reach out to make sure I am tapping into my full potential. Without him, I would not have found my passion for writing and storytelling. Thank you.
TO THE CUSTOMERS. YOU ALL ARE HELPING ME KEEP THE DREAM ALIVE. TOGETHER WE CAN DO ANYTHING.
And no matter what…. THE LEGACY CONTINUES!