Born and raised in Harlem, Madeline McCray is by far the definition of a maverick. Actress, author, life coach and inspirational speaker, McCray has been through a lot, and she is not afraid to share her story.

Orphaned at the age of 14, when her mother died of a heart attack, McCray began her life journey, refusing to let the loss of her mother and the conditions around her shape her life. She married at the age of 18, but suffered abuse at the hands of her husband until the age of 22. She ended the marriage, taking their two sons and her stepdaughter with her.

“I learned at an early age how another human being can be distressed and that they can bring that into your world when you are vulnerable to it,” stated McCray, referring to her marriage. “I also knew I did not belong in that situation. I was one of those young women who thought I was going to help him overcome his pain, and he would be a different person. But that became way less of a priority for me when my sons were born.

“There was a day when our oldest son, who at the time was about 3 years old, came up to me on a day that he slapped me. While I sat on the chair, he put both hands on both sides of my cheeks and he said, ‘Mommy, why does Daddy hit you?’ That was it. I did not leave right then, but that was the threshold.”

As a survivor of domestic violence, McCray knows how difficult and challenging it can be for someone who is experiencing it. “You do have to plan your exit strategy,” she said. “You do have to understand that the partner is very fearful of losing you. Perhaps in their mind, you’re their lifeline to some semblance of worthiness in their own life. And the fear of that being taken away or just simply losing control over another life they had control over can put you in a very dangerous situation.

“So you have to make a very careful plan. One must learn to save some sort of money to be able to have at least enough to get on a bus or decide where that safe location is going to be. Who is that person you can talk to who will be your safe harbor temporarily until you are able to take that next step?

“It’s not about saving thousands of dollars. If you’ve got bus fare and children and enough to get yourself to a safe place, that will be the most important thing. And to really know when to keep your mouth shut and not tell everyone what you are planning to do. Sometimes someone can innocently say something or just betray you, and that can put you in more danger.”

As a survivor of domestic violence, McCray used her past experience as a healing mechanism to empower, encourage and give faith to others around her.

McCray, who has been in theater on and off for 30 years, has co-starred opposite Emmy-nominated actor John Amos and Isaiah Washington in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Fences” and in Susan Lori-Parks’ “Imperceptible Mutabilities of the Third Kingdom.” She wrote and still performs her one woman show, “A Dream to Fly: Inspired by the Life and Times of Bessie Coleman.” Coleman was the world’s first Black female pilot.

“This is one of my favorite shows to do because it is about a woman who literally overcame all of the obstacles of the time, and she demonstrated what it means to have a dream and to pursue it and not let anything get in your way,” said McCray. She will be staging another production in March 2015 for Women’s History Month. McCray also performs at aviation colleges and different colleges around the country.

McCray’s first book, “Healthy Women Rock: How to Live the Life You Desire and Deserve, Lose Weight and Control Negative Thoughts,” a collaboration with her youngest son, Terahshea, enjoyed rave reader reviews.

She and mental health advocate Terrie M. Williams are co-founders of New Legacy Leaders, which they started in 2012. “The mantra is ‘Our Vision, Our Journey Beyond Depression, Obesity and Poverty to Wellness and Prosperity,’” said McCray. “The dream with this initiative is to inspire people to live healthier lives and to provide the information for resources in which they can do that, and also to acknowledge that we owe it to the next generation to be our very best self. We start that by changing our mindset and by breaking old habits and creating newer habits and lifestyles that will lead to living a better life.”

McCray is passionate about helping people step into their personal power and rise to their full human potential. Over the span of three days, from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31, she and Williams will hold their “Save Her, Save Him” New Legacy Leaders Symposium. The symposium will be focused on domestic violence and HIV awareness.

“We are lucky that Macy’s came back onboard as our sponsor because they see this as an important issue for families and children.” The event will be held at La Maison d’Art Gallery Oct. 29 and 30 and will be a free event at Harlem Hospital Oct. 31.

McCray is the proud mother of two children and six grandchildren. She believes that we are all born with a purpose. “It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, or whether your life began in a ghetto or mansion. Once you embrace your purpose, you can begin the process of fulfilling your true destiny, accepting with lighter heart all of its challenges and rewards along the way.”

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