Thoughts From the Soul of the Tucson Kid

Follow Ernie McCray as he writes about his life as an educator, a father, a husband and a civil rights activist. We are blessed to have him here and find inspiration in him and his words.

Thumbnail image for A Community Preparing for the Future by Addressing the ‘Facts’ of the Matter

A Community Preparing for the Future by Addressing the ‘Facts’ of the Matter

by Ernie McCray 08.30.2014 Activism

By Ernie McCray

Recently, a man said I should wait for the “facts” because of feelings I shared when I was (and I still am) grieving the “fact” that Michael Brown had been shot unarmed in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.

Oh, it seems like the only time Americans talk about justice and fairness and deal with terms like “facts” is when black folks are involved. I mean like students of color at one time were denied college admissions as a way of American life. Affirmative Action Programs were created to address this problem and immediately they were attacked because they were deemed as “unfair” to white students.

Now “facts” have become a code word for keeping black people in our place when it comes to issues of justice. A black boy lies dead in his own blood and the “let’s wait for the facts” crowd, the KKK among them, have raised over $400,000 through GoFundMe for Darren Wilson, a cop, for whom there are very few “facts” other than the “fact” that he was the one who took a young brother’s life.

And speaking of “facts,” comments on the GoFundMe website are in “fact,” chilling to the bone, downright scary.

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Thumbnail image for Can We Just Create a Civil Society Where Black Boys Can Feel Free to Just Be?

Can We Just Create a Civil Society Where Black Boys Can Feel Free to Just Be?

by Ernie McCray 08.20.2014 Culture

by Ernie McCray / The OB Rag

Michael Brown. Another black boy dead, unvalued and unloved by this society, unseen for what he is, a human being, dehumanized before he’s memorialized because we love to show a victim at his worse. They just had to show him strong arming a man for a pack of cigarillos.

So now we get away from his being shot (six times I just read) by someone paid by the citizenry to “serve and protect” and we start thinking, because of his criminal shenanigans, that maybe, just maybe, he isn’t deserving of continuing to live on earth with the rest of us.

Well, I’ve known many kids, a grandson of mine being one of them, who thought, at one time, they were slick and went off and committed some stupid crime and then went on to become outstanding human beings. Why? Because nobody killed them. …

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Thumbnail image for Helping Young People Who See the World through Frosted Windows

Helping Young People Who See the World through Frosted Windows

by Ernie McCray 08.07.2014 Activism

By Ernie McCray

I just finished watching a Turner Classic Movie, “Scandal at Scourie,” that featured two of my favorite all-time movie actors, Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson, playing a couple who adopted a foster child. In one scene a bully, a boy, says to the adopted child, a girl, “You have no mother and you have no father. You’re nothing but a…” The last words are lost in a flurry of commotion.

As I watched I thought how timely the movie was for me since my plan for the day was to write about a program my son and others are creating to help empower low-income young adults and former foster youth, ages 18-24, to become more self sufficient. As it is, they spend their young lives pretty much seeing the world as though they’re observing it through a frosted window. All is blurry. Focusing on anything that might be of value to them in the future is often nearly impossible.

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Living Fully in Nancy’s Place

by Ernie McCray 07.25.2014 Culture

By Ernie McCray

Nancy left these shores on the 22nd of July, five years ago, and my son wrote some pretty words about her on Facebook that brought tears to my eyes, the soft tears that flow from memories held dear.

He says, of her passing, “It was not the last time I’ve heard her wisdom, felt her spirit, followed her counsel or shared a smile with her. I am motivated each day to bring change and happiness to this world and my mother is one of the motivations.”

Then he says, “Laurel (his wonderful partner in life) gave me a beautiful card this morning with a quote she chose that embodies how I’ve coped with the reality that I can never dance with my mother at my wedding, cry on her shoulder, or feel her hugs.” The card says, “The greatest gift we can give to those who have left us is to live fully in their place.”

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Creating a Better World with Children in Mind

by Ernie McCray 07.20.2014 Books & Poetry

(Inspired by the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme)

By Ernie McCray

I just spent a week doing a show at the San Diego International Fringe Festival called “On the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme” with some of the most fabulous tap dancers anyone could ever find. This spoken word/dance piece was dedicated to the creation of a reality that
“appears to the mind to be of a gentler
more caring and loving kind…”
It was written in honor of children no matter where they reside on the planet. It entertains the idea of creating a world for them that is
“without arms,
worthy of their beauty
and their charm.”
The poem speaks to a society dancing On the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme
“to the beat of a song,
a love song.”

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Feeling Hawaii

by Ernie McCray 07.16.2014 Columns

 By Ernie McCray

I’ve been to the islands of Hawaii four times, thoroughly enjoying the unparalleled beauty each time. How can one not?

Maui. The Hana Highway. The howling trade winds, the sudden rains, the rainbow eucalyptus, with its bright green inner bark and blue, purple, orange and maroon tones. The wonders of the Seven Sacred Pools…

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Thumbnail image for Jackson and Me (and Lolli, too), Part II

Jackson and Me (and Lolli, too), Part II

by Ernie McCray 06.27.2014 Columns

 By Ernie McCray

With Jackson and Lolli still on my mind I’m remembering how they were confidante’s of mine, two beings besides that beautiful woman of mine who kept what I shared with them in safe keeping.

Whenever I needed reassurance that everything was going to be all right with the world, I could count on Jackson and Lolli to indicate such with the love in their eyes for me that I felt every single time I was in their presence.

They heard it all during the stage of my life they were in. They heard me cry “Oh, what a pity” as I played with words to a poem I wanted to write for the children at Marvin Elementary when the children died in Oklahoma City. They felt my anguish as children succumbed to the bombs of Desert Storms I and II raining down on them.

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Thumbnail image for Jackson and Me (and Lolli, too), Part I

Jackson and Me (and Lolli, too), Part I

by Ernie McCray 06.25.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray 

Not too long ago I heard Garrison Keillor cite a poem about the passing of his cat either on Prairie Home Companion or the Writer’s Almanac.

A line from it says:

        “She was given the merciful injection
        As we stroked her and said,
        ‘Good cat. Good cat.’ And she lay down her head
        On our lap
        And took her nap.”

After listening to the tribute I kept thinking of my favorite pet, my dog Jackson, a handsome black lab, who left this world a few years back. He, literally took a nap, just laid himself down quietly and then let himself go. I was just devastated although I knew the day would come as he had become feeble and old and had slowed down considerably. It seemed like it was over night: one day we, him, my mutt, Lolli, and I are flying through the many paths in our neighborhood or through the sands of a choice of beaches, and then one day Jackson is looking at us as if to say, “Hey, I would if I could but since I cain’t I ain’t.” And then he was gone.

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Thumbnail image for Reflecting on When I Dreamed of Fatherhood as a Child

Reflecting on When I Dreamed of Fatherhood as a Child

by Ernie McCray 06.18.2014 Columns

  By Ernie McCray

 As Fathers Day approached I was thinking back to how I used to kind of dream of being a dad when I was a little boy.

 The concept of fatherhood has held some significance to me for most of my life. One of my first questions to the universe was “What does a daddy do?”

That was all about the fact that my mother was the one in my everyday life, working, as she would not let anybody forget, her fingers to the bone. And that was confusing to me since my dad, who didn’t live in our home, seemed to be resting and dressing and cruising – and I felt forced to get a job when I was only five years old.

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Thumbnail image for Who’s Really the Traitor Here? Thoughts about Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

Who’s Really the Traitor Here? Thoughts about Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

by Ernie McCray 06.09.2014 Activism

By Ernie McCray

My goodness, a man, Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, gets released from a 5 year imprisonment in Afghanistan, and there are those who want to condemn him, as a traitor, allegations that are no more than speculations based on shaky observations.

“He walked away from his duty! And people died looking for him!” people say as though in war it’s out of the ordinary for someone to freak out and want to flee and maybe say to his foe “I don’t want to shoot another one of y’all anymore! I can’t stand to see another child run in fear when I walk near them. I can no longer stand to see them shake in their pants, ever again” – aka “consorting” with the enemy. We’re human beings. We’re supposed to care. It’s in our nature somewhere.

If we paused for a moment couldn’t we consider that if the Taliban gave Bergdahl a single sandwich in those five years he was in their hands that he was more of a drain on their resources than any kind of aid to them? And, in war, don’t soldiers die all the time while “looking for somebody?” Can we try to understand?

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Thumbnail image for Thinking of Muir in the Midst of the Madness

Thinking of Muir in the Midst of the Madness

by Ernie McCray 06.04.2014 Editor's Picks

By Ernie McCray

No sooner than I had checked into facebook I got the chilling news about a lockdown at the John Muir K-12 Magnet School, a school I nurtured during its first four years – four of the most satisfying revealing validating unbelievable inspiring awakening beautiful questioning yummy xenophobic-less desirable hopeful colorful wacky pleasurable fruitful exhausting kaleidoscopic glorious touching open lasting joyful noteworthy zestful memorable years of my life.

It was John Muir Alternative School to us, back then in 1974, and no matter what the name, the mere notion that someone, anyone, would threaten it’s hallowed boundaries with a gun is about as scary a thought as there could be for me.

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My Sister’s Voice

by Ernie McCray 05.27.2014 Arts

By Ernie McCray

Alexis Dixon, a friend of mine, recently emailed me that he was working on a new project and I’m already hyped because I remember the last project which was the first of the “Notes to Our Sons and Daughters” series.

That was a wonderful evening, with a beautiful collection of photographs so I’d say the next show, “My Sister’s Voice,” is a must go for anyone who can go.

 This stylized black and white international photographic collection is unveiled to us by Alexis and the Center for Community Solutions (CCS) which provides prevention and intervention services for violence and abuse.

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Thumbnail image for Galeano, a Reminder of “Who” We Are – A Call to Action in Support of the Zapatistas

Galeano, a Reminder of “Who” We Are – A Call to Action in Support of the Zapatistas

by Ernie McCray 05.23.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray

I hear all kinds of arguments about what’s wrong with schools and the sentiments tend to avoid the keys to what’s essential in the creation of a learning environment: an understanding of “who” the person is who’s being educated. And nothing gets at “who” a child, a student, is more than an educator who respects and appreciates that person’s culture and gives him or her an education that’s rich in the arts.

With that being said, on May 2, 2014, a hero of mine, a teacher extraordinaire, Jose Luis Solis Lopez (Galeano), was assassinated at the Zapatista’s “Little School” (La Escuelita), in Chiapas, Mexico. The school was built to celebrate “who” children are and “who” they can become.

Their culture is at the core of their school. The arts, drawing, painting, singing, dancing, poetry are interwoven in all that they do, enabling each child to get at what drives them, what they have to offer, how they fit into the scheme of things.

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Thumbnail image for My Maria and SDSU’s CBB Multicultural Community Counseling and Social Justice Education Program

My Maria and SDSU’s CBB Multicultural Community Counseling and Social Justice Education Program

by Ernie McCray 05.19.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray

She’s really something, my Maria. Maria Nieto-Senour. College professor by way of the Mexican barrios of San Antonio and Austin and the inner-cities of Detroit. Mo-Town.

At any moment she’ll be retired which means she gets to hang out with me more. I can’t wait because she’s fun to be around and she’s about as loving a human being as one could be.  

That loving nature of hers has served her well as the Director of a master’s degree program at San Diego State University called CBB (Community-Based Block).

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My Mellow Birthday

by Source 04.28.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray

I like my birthdays mellow and this year’s was just that, a little time with my querida and some of my family at her house and before they arrived I stretched out in my easy chair and listened to Lila Downs sing corridos in ways only she can. Oh, that voice of hers was born in some special place.

Lila warmed my insides and made me want to dance, so I got my 76 year old body up and put some Maceo on. The Maceo James Brown used to call out to when he yelled to the beat, “Macio! Hit me! Take me to the bridge!” when he wanted to take the jam to a different groove, making everybody want to move.

And Maceo had me getting down like I was the hippest coolest stepper in town. My mood, at this point, was easy and sweet, and that directed how I moved my feet, as I enjoyed my special day.

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Thumbnail image for Still Thinking 76

Still Thinking 76

by Ernie McCray 04.19.2014 Culture

By Ernie McCray

There’s something about the age of 76 that’s different than any other age I’ve had the pleasure of being. I keep thinking about it for one thing. Maybe it’s because 76 leans closer to 80 than those other yearly milestones along life’s way. As we get older, I think, we see ourselves as Grim Reaper victims every now and then in very brief moments. Briefer than the one just passed, for anyone interested in specifics. Thinking about something can be a lot different than dwelling on it.

Anyway, while pondering such thoughts on the night before I turned 76, I found myself clicking into flickr on the internet for something that might symbolize my reaching such an age, looking for something that screamed “Orale!” The Reaper doesn’t like such expressions of “liveliness.”

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Entering a New Age

by Ernie McCray 04.15.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray

When it comes to age I’m about to turn another page. I’ll be 76 if I’m still on the scene on April 18th, 2014.

Life, on the whole, has been very good to me. Somehow, I’ve managed, in my time, as I’ve evolved as a human being, to let the good moments override the moments when I’ve wanted to scream or just cold-cock some redneck yokel out of his misery into another galaxy or burn down the “system.” The hypocrisy of it all has always bothered me immensely.

So I just ride the high from the pretty moments, like the one the other day when Maria and I, on a little getaway, were walking along the main drag in Julian, enjoying a soothing sunny day, fully at ease with ourselves and with each other. While strolling through a group of boys, in front of a market, one of them said to me, “You’re tall,” to which I replied, “Yes, I am that” as we stepped through the threshold of the little store. “Can you dunk?” he continued. “At one time. Not anymore.” “Too old?” “You got it.”

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Thumbnail image for March Madness Bringing out “The Thinker” in Me

March Madness Bringing out “The Thinker” in Me

by Ernie McCray 04.01.2014 Culture

Go Aztecs! Bear Down, Arizona!

By Ernie McCray

My highlight of the 2014 March Madness Tournament was the Arizona Wildcat win over the San Diego State Aztecs in the Sweet 16. What a great game.

It was, however, a bittersweet win for me because, although I used to play for the U of A and the school is in Tucson, the town in which I made my debut as a homosapien, the Aztecs are my team too as San Diego is the town I came to when I decided that my “running around looking for shade trees” days were through. So my rejoicing after the game was somewhat tame. But I did do a little jig. For about an hour.

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Poetry: Tanja and All that Jazz

by Ernie McCray 03.24.2014 Books & Poetry

(Celebrating a Life that Lasted from January 18, 1927-February 9, 2014)

By Ernie McCray

Tanja Winter.
Talking about a woman who had pizzazz.
I wrote, for her 80th birthday,
how she came into the world
about the same time as

Bob Fosse
who gave us
some sexy razz ma tazz
in the name of
All that Jazz;

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My Hometown as a Basketball Town

by Ernie McCray 03.18.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray

I just finished a nice read, Tucson a Basketball Town. It was written by Arizona hoop legends, Bob Elliott and Eric Money.

They, in a nice informative way, remind Arizona basketball fans that before Lute Olson came along and took the program to somewhat unbelievable heights that there was an era, in the 70′s, their era, that Tucson became a basketball town.

They’re so right and the man who made it all happen from the coaching end was one of the most charismatic and self-confident human beings I have ever had the privilege of knowing: Fred “The Fox” Snowden, the first black coach for a major school in a major NCAA conference. He brought in players like Bob and Eric and others who collectively played basketball at a level that had never been seen in my hometown.

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Thumbnail image for Why I like the Big Red-Head (Bill Walton)

Why I like the Big Red-Head (Bill Walton)

by Ernie McCray 03.06.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray

I remember one time, long ago, back in the day, hearing a guy say, about Bill Walton, “Aw, man, that dude can’t play no ball.” Hey, I don’t know what his definition of “playing ball” was but I had just, a few moments before, seen basketball played at a level or two above what you’d ordinarily see a teenage red-head high school kid do on a basketball court.

First of all he gangster slapped the notion of “white guys can’t jump.” I mean he blocked shots like he was in a badminton game, tapping a couple to himself and then he whipped outlet passes for the fast-break like the ball was on a laser beam; he drove the defense absolutely insane, pulling up for jump-shots, dropping floating hook-shots, setting screens and playing off screens, setting his teammates up for easy shots, and driving his big red-head self down the lane. I had never seen such dominance in a basketball game – and I could play the game.

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Thumbnail image for Black History Month: Reflecting on Moments Filled with Hope

Black History Month: Reflecting on Moments Filled with Hope

by Ernie McCray 02.11.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray

There are moments when I want to sing out loud, “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and just get up and dance in my joy, doing the do like James Brown used to get us to.

I felt like that the other day as I listened to Harold K. Brown, a hero of mine,  reminisce about when he and other San Diego activists marched and chanted and sat-in and demanded an end to the practices that various organizations and companies utilized, in town, to keep folks like me down.

The pleasure I was feeling in those moments certainly wasn’t based on Harold’s recollections of being jailed or called names and dodging feces tossed by the most hateful of God’s creatures – no, my glee came as I looked around me into the faces of so many people who have over time honored what Harold brought to us and have strived to keep hope alive. Folks who still have their eyes on the prize.

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Thumbnail image for Wildcats Coach Sean Miller: A Dazzling Human Being

Wildcats Coach Sean Miller: A Dazzling Human Being

by Ernie McCray 02.06.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray

I recently wrote about Steve Fisher, the coach of the San Diego State Aztec men’s basketball team, about how masterful a teacher he is. Now I’d like to share a few words about another virtuoso teacher, Sean Miller, who coaches the University of Arizona Wildcats.

I remember when he first popped up in my life. I was settling down in my easy chair, with a beer, perhaps, all relaxed (a talent of mine), waiting to hear Ed McMahon say “Here’s Johnny!” with that brassy introduction by Doc Severinsen and the mighty Tonight Show Band.  “Hi-Yo!”

After a few jokes and the usual kidding around you expect on a talk show, this 14 year old kid comes out, sits down, and, as if this was just another day in the neighborhood, started talking about where he was from and how he had once made 50 free throws in a row and the next thing I know he was putting on a basketball skills show. He spun a basketball with blinding rotations on his fingers and bounced and/or juggled and dribbled between his legs what seemed like, in those moments, a crate of basketballs – like it was no big thing.

What a dazzling human being. What poise – in the midst of all the crowd noise.

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Thumbnail image for When I Think of Lyric, Writing About Love is Very Necessary

When I Think of Lyric, Writing About Love is Very Necessary

by Ernie McCray 01.28.2014 Columns

 By Ernie McCray

In response to what I wrote about how nice I thought it would be if the La Jolla Christmas Parade was named something that was more welcoming for everyone, a woman said “The article was meant to cause some drama, stir up some anxiety and really wasn’t necessary.”

That, I must say, came as news to me as my easy going nature won’t let me anywhere near anxiety. And I definitely was not shooting for drama at all although it would be nice if someone stood up and did a little dance and sang a show tune about a “Parade that Made Everybody Happy.”

But, it was very “necessary” for me to write an appeal to people’s better nature, to the love they hold inside of themselves. Promoting love and understanding is pretty much at the heart of everything I write, everything I do. Now, there’s a reason for it. In fact, making the world a better place is what I’m supposed to do.

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Thumbnail image for My Hopes for the Next 35 Years

My Hopes for the Next 35 Years

by Ernie McCray 01.13.2014 Columns

I recently was reminded that the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD) has been around for 35 years; 35 wonderful years I might add. I mean they’ve worked tirelessly in society’s behalf to challenge the military establishment’s overbearing intrusions in our lives.

They, with a host of other peace groups, have kept military issues in our collective consciousness via community forums, in the streets, and through youth outreach, keeping us aware of how much the military strains our economy, how much it magnifies a negative image of our country around the world, how much racism and sexism and homophobia it nurtures throughout its hierarchy.

COMD is a big part of why I continue working with the Education Not Arms Coalition (ENAC) to counter the recruitment of our children.

Without us there would still be rifle training on our campuses sponsored by the JROTC. To us, teenagers firing rifles on their school grounds made a mockery of San Diego City Schools’ Zero-Tolerance of Weapons Policy.

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