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.

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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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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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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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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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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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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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Steve Fisher, SDSU’s Master Educator (And Basketball Coach)

by Ernie McCray 01.10.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray

When San Diego State’s men’s gifted basketball players showed up at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas and rose from the 21st rated team to number 13 after destroying the Jayhawks’ dream of stretching a 68 game winning streak against non-Big Ten teams to 69 – I couldn’t help but think, at the time, of how lucky those young athletes are in having Steve Fisher as their guide on this wonderful ride.

The man is clearly a wonderful coach, a master teacher if there ever was one. He knows how to connect with folks who are counting on him for guidance.

I know. I’m an educator by nature, in a way. I decided on teaching after my very first day in kindergarten (as much as a five year old can consider such a thing), thinking that there must be a better way to teach somebody than taking a yardstick and whacking their knuckles to Maricopa County.

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Oh, Have I Ever Been Blessed

by Ernie McCray 01.05.2014 Columns

By Ernie McCray

Someone mentioned on facebook the other day that we forget to count our blessings. I thought about that for a few moments and then whatever I was thinking just floated away and then I noticed that my daughter, Tawny, had posted a picture of her mother on her timeline and that really got my thoughts about blessings underway.

And, in the spirit of such thinking, with family on my mind, I could hear my daughter, Nyla, saying to Phill, her husband-to be, a little while back, in their wedding ceremony: “It is so special for me to be marrying you on this day in the house that I was raised in. My parents had such a strong and beautiful relationship and I was lucky to grow up with that around me.”

Oh, that, to me, was about as precious a blessing as there could be, hearing my daughter express that she was blessed to be raised by her mother and me. Brought tears of glee to my eyes. And speaking of blessings what a boon to our lives that beautiful young woman has been from the moment she and her twin sister arrived.

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Thumbnail image for A New Day                          (Opening David Alvarez’s Office on Imperial Avenue)

A New Day (Opening David Alvarez’s Office on Imperial Avenue)

by Ernie McCray 12.31.2013 Books & Poetry

By Ernie McCray

For the opening of David’s Imperial Avenue office
I was asked to read a piece I wrote about our mayor to be,
something to which I took heed and agreed
because right away it seemed like something cool to do to me.
But then it occurred to me
that there ain’t a whole lot of
in reading an essay, ese.

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The Thought of David Alvarez as Mayor…

by Ernie McCray 12.23.2013 Faulconer vs Alvarez

By Ernie McCray

It was like walking in on a “Who’s Got the Sunniest Smile” Contest as the room in this “David Alvarez for Mayor” gathering, was full of them. I joined right in with my ages old grin.

My smile shone brightly because David is an answer to a dream of what a San Diego mayor should be like that I first conceived when I moved to town in late August of ’62. I was barely a few months over 24 years old, ready to change the world for the betterment of all humankind. For most of the years since then, my dream of a mayor like David has seemed just like that: a dream.

I mean when I showed up on the local scene I thought I had escaped the small-minded non-progressive kind of thinking I had been subjected to growing up in Tucson. That notion changed when I turned my TV on and saw two men, Frank Curran who would later become mayor and Allen Hitch who wanted so much to be the mayor.

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Folks with Interesting Faces

by Ernie McCray 12.18.2013 Columns

By Ernie McCray

A little while back I spent some time with friends of mine in Tucson who, like me, went to Dunbar, the “colored” school.

My girlfriend, Maria, said to me, as we were re-living the trip, “You all have such interesting faces.” And it’s true. We do. For us it would be hard not to. We’ve had the kinds of lives that go into making interesting faces.

For one thing we had to swim on top of each other when we sought relief from the frying heat of summer in the “colored” pool, a water hole no bigger than some I’ve seen in backyards in middle class neighborhoods. On the deck a sign said “No Running” and that wasn’t just a mere suggestion as it was hard to slowly tip toe on that ice-like surface without your feet spinning rapidly beneath you like the roadrunner’s. A cracked head will make your face look extremely interesting, let me tell you.

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South Africa’s Role in My Evolution as an Educator

by Ernie McCray 12.10.2013 Columns

By Ernie McCray

As I reflect on Mandela’s passing I’m reminded of how the struggle of his people has played an important role in my development as an educator, starting back in ’57 or ’58 before I had taken my first “How to Teach” course at the University of Arizona.

At the time I was writing a research paper and found some essays on South Africa and the word “apartheid” leapt off the pages at me and I discovered that my struggle in Southern Arizona was so similar to what blacks were going through in the southern tip of the Dark Continent.

Of course, apartheid was more brutal. I didn’t have enough time to dwell on the subject so I just tucked my new found information away and got back to a life of pop quizzes and mid-terms and the like.

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What You Don’t Know About Me (As If You Cared)

by Ernie McCray 11.20.2013 Columns

By Ernie McCray

I like facebook. For me it’s been a nice way to get snippets, sometimes daily, of what’s going on in the lives of both new and old friends: students of mine from over time, some of my children and grandchildren, ex-colleagues, fellow actors and writers and activists – interesting people all.

Occasionally one of them will suggest a game for me to play and I usually don’t take part in such online activities because it’s too easy to spend too much time on social media without the temptation of getting involved in diversionary attractions of any kind.

But lately a number of my friends have been revealing a number of random things about themselves that no one knows or bits of information only a few people are in on and if you profess a “like” for or make a comment on what they have exposed they assign you a number and you’re to make a list of unknown facts about yourself equal to that number. I was given the number 8 by one of my favorite students of all times, Shannon, who disclosed that her name is really Shanna in keeping with the idea of the game.

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Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon

by Ernie McCray 11.17.2013 Columns

By Ernie McCray

A little while ago while kicking back in a park with a few members of my family tree, I found myself humming the Rascal’s catchy tune, “Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon,” because that’s what we were doing. Grooving. Cruising. Schmoozing. Amusing. Aka enjoying ourselves.

On a Sunday afternoon.

As we laughed and talked about what’s going on now with us and what went on in our past, individual thoughts about each precious one of them would rise in my mind.

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Time to Give Voice Through a Choice- AKA Get Out the Vote

by Ernie McCray 11.06.2013 Columns

By Ernie McCray

With the mayoral election coming up on Tuesday, November 19th, it’s time for one of those “Get Out the Vote” kinds of appeals and I’m up for the deal because voting is what being an American means to me.

But there are folks who don’t vote which I see as an insult against the very notion of a democracy. They cry “What’s the use?” claiming that special interests rule the day and our representatives don’t care about us. Well, there sure is a lot of truth in that but I can’t think of any better reason to vote than to take on such abuses of power.

Voting is at the core of our nation’s soul. The big cats know that well. That’s why they buy folks who’ll heed their will.

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Getting to Know Lyric Better in Palm Springs

by Ernie McCray 10.25.2013 Columns

By Ernie McCray

Man, I love that Lyric. My tenth grandchild. I recently spent a couple of fun days with him at our family’s Palm Springs getaway. As I got to know him better I couldn’t help but think of Nancy, his grandma, who over twenty years ago decided that we McRobs (combination of our last names, McCray and Robertson) needed a vacation spot, some where close where we could just get away from our everyday lives for a few days. Palm Springs came to be that place.

I was on board right-away except I didn’t understand the “time share” lingo but Nancy spoke the language well and she just put the papers in front of me and pointed to where I was to sign and we were in business. It turned out to be one of the nicest gifts we’ve ever bestowed on ourselves. It always signified to me, a school principal, that the summer was coming to an end and a new school year would soon begin. But I was always – after a week of swimming laps and having it “made in the shade,” literally, with my journal and my pen and whatever book I was involved in, not caring about the placement of prepositions – more than ready to engage kids in discussions of “What I Did This Summer,” more than ready to dive in and make learning as fun as I could get by with in “the system” and that, in and of itself, at times, was a whole lot of fun.

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Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

by Ernie McCray 10.24.2013 Encore

By Ernie McCray

I’m not, necessarily, one for seeing movies or plays or other things that are staged more than once unless there’s something really special about it. That being said I can’t wait to take in my friend Calvin Manson’s wonderfully soulful musical “Don’t Let me Be Misunderstood” again.

I highly recommend this beautifully crafted piece of theater because it’s so personal to me. It features the songs of one of my show-people-heroes, Nina Simone. This inimitable singer and pianist not only dazzled the world with her sultry sincere soulful voice but she also, at the same time, actively pursued dreams of that world being one where all people live in freedom. With dignity. Like Robeson and Belafonte. That kind of service to humanity resonates deeply within me.

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Gentle Fathers in the Wild

by Ernie McCray 09.26.2013 Columns

By Ernie McCray

I hadn’t camped since Nancy died in ’09. But there I was, this past weekend, laying my sleeping bag down on the ground, to spend some time in the wilderness, near Julian, for two days and two nights with some of the most delightful people one could ever meet in life. It would be an understatement to define those moments as nice.

I mean we were living good, just kicking back, underneath a sky that was black as it could be considering that there was a full moon at play, eating meals off the grill, over burning logs we needed to feel cozy in the evening chill.

It had been a while but nothing had changed since the days when Nancy and I and our offspring would get out into the woods. Like back then, no sooner than I stepped out of my car my spiritual nature rose to the fore. At first it was a reaction to the sheer majesty of it all: the emerging colors of autumn all around me in the oak and cedar and pine trees, the knowing that I was surrounded by mule deer and wild turkeys with bobcats and mountain lions watching the whole scene, the fresh air. How could my soul not feel moved when I was, by the very environment I found myself in, feeling such a connection to nature’s wonders?

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A New Day at San Diego’s City Hall?

by Ernie McCray 09.05.2013 Columns

by Ernie McCray

The other night while watching tv I heard interim San Diego Mayor, Todd Gloria, mention that it’s “A new day at City Hall.”

Well, I’ve witnessed many a “new day” in my life and what’s going on today in City Hall doesn’t look anything like any one of those days to me. Instead, it looks like the same old same old to the millionth degree.

Oh, but there was a new day at City Hall. Not too long ago. And it wasn’t like any “new day” I have ever experienced before. It was something to behold. True blue. I mean no mayor, as in none, before Bob Filner, had ever cited visions for our city that coincided with mine, a vision that included people like me, many of us South of 8, activists, artists, performers, non-profit folks and business folks of common means, all trying to meet our community’s needs.

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City Heights, My Hero in the Era of “The New Jim Crow”

by Ernie McCray 09.03.2013 Courts, Justice

By Ernie McCray

If a community could be labeled a hero then City Heights would be mine. I’ve loved the community for a long time. I used to live there back in 68 or 69 – when I was trying to get my life back in line after it had been weakened by more drama than one would find in a telenovela storyline. So, to my delight, I rediscovered the light in City Heights. That bonded us.

The word around town in those days was that there were streets in the neighborhoods that were “kind of rough” and there was some truth to that but I’ve kept the love.

Over time, though, “rough” became a pretty apt description of the area. Gang banging and drug handling came more and more on the scene. Abodes were crumbling. Citizens had nowhere to go to ask questions as there were no “public services” to speak of. Some definition of “disenfranchised” has to be included in that picture somewhere.

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Feeling Zihua

by Ernie McCray 08.27.2013 Columns

by Ernie McCray

I love getting out into the world and I’m particularly fond of spending time in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, Mexico with Maria, mi querida.

That little seaport town and its surroundings compose a world of beaches and bays and mountains and lush jungles and mahogany colored peoples – and kick-ass mosquitos who seem to savor the taste of tall old black men.

This part of the world, as I learn more about it, gives rise to my spiritual nature, granting me a sense of what it must have been like for the Tarascan, Aztec, Toltec, Olmec and Maya peoples who walked this world many yesterdays ago.

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