Richard Murphy, Youth Development Pioneer, Dies at 68

Richard Murphy, a pioneer in advocating for and developing youth development programs, passed away last week at the age of 68. Murphy died of complications from stomach cancer.

Perhaps one of the most connected people in all of youth services, Murphy got his start as a part-time social worker in New York City during the 1960s. In 1970, he helped found the Rheedlen Center for Children and Families, focused on providing services during the hours that school was not open.

Those who have followed the youth policies of President Barack Obama know about Murphy’s creation, just perhaps under a different name. Murphy left in 1990 to become commissioner of youth services for the city under former Mayor David Dinkins, and put his protege, Geoffrey Canada, in charge of Rheedlen.

Canada, tapping into Murphy’s influence within the city and the considerable wealth of his college friend/hedge fund billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller, grew an enormous array of programs around Rheedlen that included a parenting college, charter schools and health clinics.

Canada would eventually re-brand the entire thing as the Harlem Children’s Zone. In 2009, Obama pledged $10 million to help other cities plan efforts in the mold of HCZ.

After his stint with the city, Murphy was accused by staff of former Mayor Rudy Giuliani of overspending and awarding dubious contracts, allegations that froze him out of most opportunities in the city after he left the commissioner’s office. As a New York Times piece today well explains, the charges were completely bogus.

Still, Murphy managed to help Food Bank for NYC establish a culinary arts high school in Manhattan, and then headed to Washington to become director of the Center for Youth Development and Policy Research for the Academy for Educational Development, which was later purchased by an international nonprofit called FHI 360.

At AED, Murphy led the creation of Community Youth Mapping, a model that has been replicated in over 100 localities and four countries. Murphy was at the helm of another mapping-based program called iMapAmerica, which sought to use three pilot mapping projects in New Orleans, Minneapolis and New York as a jump-off point for a national model.

The larger goal is to use these mapping efforts to identify accurate information for youth about the emergency services, youth opportunities and basic points of assistance in communities.

iMapAmerica appears to have ceased operation: it’s phone line has been deactivated, and the website has not been updated in nearly a year.

“Richard’s work had national reach, as those of us who had the honor of working with him have carried what he taught us to Louisiana, to Wisconsin, to California, to Minnesota, and beyond,” said an online statement from the Partnership for Youth Development, which partnered with iMapAmerica to establish the New Orleans pilot project.

“Richard’s generosity, expertise, and incredible passion for social justice were inimitable. He is, and will continue to be, deeply missed.”

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.