Former basketball standout Ernie McCray talks about his bad back and what he’d change in the world

(Photo courtesy of Ernie McCray)

Do you most often actively seek inspiration or does it find you? Or is it a combination of the two?
For me, at age 77, just breathing inspires me. So I go forth in the world with my eyes open to most everything, and some of what I see sometimes resonates in me enough that I have to rhyme it, sing it, share it, move to it.

What led you to art in general and to your art form(s) in particular?
I’ve written since grade school and I haven’t yet seen a stage that I didn’t want to be up on, so performing is a way of being for me.

Have you and your artistry ever been involved in traditional business? If so, how?
No more than when I’ve acted on stage or done spoken word for pay. I made a living as an educator, where I used my arts extensively to make learning fun and vibrant for young people, performing on the side.

In addition to mastering their art, what other skill sets do you recommend that artists develop if they want to be successful?
From what I’ve seen with artists who wanted to do what they do exclusively, I’d say that beyond working at their craft and becoming as good as they could be, they learned how to market themselves, how to put themselves in positions to be seen. Whoopi is a friend of mine and I watched her develop the characters she used in her one-woman shows and got producers to create venues where she could show her stuff. In plays she was just one of many good and great actors.

How do you stay at the leading edge of your craft?
I don’t know where I stand in my poetry and acting but I write always with children and the making of a loving world in mind and that directs what I create. So I guess I’m saying an artist needs “purpose.”

Do you think that there are any widely held misconceptions about art and/or artists?
I can’t think of any because I tend not to hear speculative noises in any significant way.

How do you map out your goals?
I don’t set goals as much as I just do what I feel I need to do.

How do you measure your success?

If I feel that what I intended to happen happened then I feel that I succeeded.

Who do you consider to be your peers in your field?
Local poets and actors in San Diego where I live.

Who do you see/use as examples for you to emulate?
I take something from all of them.

Name two of your top role models: one in the art world and one from outside of it.
Richard Pryor for his honesty, for his laying what’s on his mind out there for people to ponder. Nelson Mandela for the same reasons.

Name three books, works, performances or exhibits that changed how you view life and/or yourself.
Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings really solidified for me that the journey to being a person with dignity is an ongoing everyday venture. Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird showed me that you can rise above how the world thinks you should act. Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” exposed my mind to what living a life filled with hope is all about.

Why do you consider continued learning important?
The mind requires stimulation to remain healthy and viable.

What affirmations do you repeat to yourself that contribute to your success?
I’m a “Just Do It” kind of guy.

What role does art have in the community?
It should be at the very core of a community as it gets at who we are as individuals and as a group.

What role would you like to see art play in the community?
A way bigger role than it plays now or has ever played.

What role does technology play in your day-to-day life?
It plays a big part in my writing and receiving information. How do you utilize it? For google-ing information and writing and posting.

What software, app or other technological innovation has made the biggest difference in your life and/or career?
Just the ability to cut and paste. Apple, for no other reason than it’s what I’ve used.

What is your favorite vacation destination and why?
The San Francisco Bay Area because of its politics and its acceptance of differences.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
It’s penchant for war.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
My bad back.

What does it take to be iconic?
An icon, I feel is someone who is such a perfect role model for what it is that they do, that when whatever that is is mentioned you almost have to think of them.

In your estimation, who has achieved that status?
Miles Davis. Muhammad Ali. Michael Jordan. Bojangles. Norman Lear. Gloria Steinem. Rosa Parks. MLK. Malcolm [X].

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