GREENSBORO — Audiences know Ernie Hudson as a versatile character actor in films such as "Ghostbusters" and "The Crow" and HBO's series "Oz."
On Monday, Hudson told the audience at a United Way of Greater Greensboro luncheon about another side of his life.
Hudson shared his story of overcoming poverty and adversity in his younger years, to becoming an actor appearing in dozens of films and TV shows.
He spoke before more than 550 people at Koury Convention Center as part of United Way's Community Speaker Series. United Way’s African American Leadership hosted the event.
Hudson commended United Way for its efforts to end poverty.
An estimated 57,000 city residents, which includes one out of every four children, lives in poverty.
"I am so appreciative that you guys care enough to come together and say, "We’re going to make a difference in our community,'" Hudson said.
He then donated $1,000 to United Way's effort to send 100 students to summer camp.
By 5 p.m. Monday, $30,102 had been donated toward the $30,000 goal.
Now 73, Hudson was raised by his grandmother in a housing project. His mother had died of tuberculosis when he was an infant. He never knew his father.
"I grew up in Michigan, in a family that never really felt welcome, or part of the community," he said.
His grandmother made the difference.
"'Baby, we may never know who your birth father is,'" she told him as a child. "'But God is your father.'"
"God found time to create me," he recalled thinking. "How special is that?"
"I think one of the reasons that gangs do so well in certain places is because kids don’t have a sense of who they belong to," he added. "I belonged to my grandmother."
Hudson graduated from high school and joined the Marines, but was discharged because of asthma. He married at age 18 and had two sons.
A remark by a woman for whom he worked inspired him to go to college. "College isn't for everyone," she told him.
"Actually, she was a very nice lady," he said. "She was giving me what she thought was the best advice she could give me. But she just didn’t know me. But it was what I needed. ... Sometimes the messenger is bringing you things in a form you don’t like, but it’s making it very clear what you’ve got to do."
Because of his low grades, Wayne State University admitted him on probation. After graduation, he attended Yale School of Drama on a scholarship and earned his master's degree.
His first marriage ended. He moved to Los Angeles and became involved with theater and film.
Now Hudson divides his time between homes in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, Minn., where his second wife lives. They have two sons.
He appeared in "Miss Congeniality" 1 and 2, and produces and plays the lead character in "The Family Business" on BET Networks.
He appears in a recurring role on the Netflix series "Grace and Frankie," as the boyfriend of Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin).
He had just returned from filming a movie in Morocco.
"Life is good," he said. "I have so much to be thankful for."
Before Hudson's talk, Mona Edwards received the Gwendolyn and Dr. Alvin V. Blount Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award.
Blount, who died in January at 94, is best known as one of the plaintiffs in a 1962 federal lawsuit that desegregated Moses Cone and other hospitals. Blount became the first black doctor to operate at Moses Cone.
Edwards is the founder and owner of LIFT Coaching and Consulting, where she provides leadership development coaching.
Edwards previously served as chief operating officer for the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, vice president and chief of staff at the Center for Creative Leadership and as the deputy/assistant city manager for the city of Greensboro.
She has volunteered her time and talents with many local nonprofits and community organizations, including United Way. She has served on its board of directors, has chaired United Way’s Community Investment Council and was a previous member of Women United. She now serves on United Way’s governance committee and is a member of the African American Leadership Affinity Group.