Gray Relating to Green

by on June 7, 2010 · 16 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Culture, Environment, From the Soul, History

ernie mccray greenSitting around trying to clear my mind of all that’s going on in a troubled world I found a picture of me almost as gray of hair and beard as one can be. Green leaves of spring adorned the trees that stood behind me and in my glasses I could see the indiscernible reflections of the children who sat listening so appreciatively to my poetry.

These were students at Einstein Academy, a school literally vibrating with positive energy and I view this picture and the gathering as an expression of how the world should be, older generations, the gray, sharing the wisdom of their age with children, the green, who in their innocence, represent what hope there really is on the planet.

Especially if their schools, as Einstein does, approaches them with a mission like “Teaching our children today to advance shared community tomorrow.” Don’t you just love it?

However, the big problem is our children will, generally speaking, mimic what they see and what they see is not enough schools like Einstein and not nearly enough grownups role modeling how the world should and could be. They see us sending our teenagers off to “shock and awe” with barely a peep. They see us relegating some people to “less than” like: “homos” who are abominations who should keep who they are to themselves; “illegals” who murder and rape and don’t give as much as they take.

Oh, our children can turn such madness around based on how over and over again I’ve found up close and personal how full of promise their thinking can be. Like a few years ago when I was helping some fourth graders create performance pieces around “making a better world” which was their idea, by the way. In our rap session, in preparation for what we were going to produce, the Iraq War came up and a girl blurted out “War is stupid” which brought on a hearty “Yeah!” from a couple of her peers and a 60’s style “Right on!” from me.

Soon into the conversation I had to correct a misconception most of them had about Osama bin Laden. When I told them he was from Saudi Arabia and not from Iraq a little girl immediately blurted out “Then they didn’t do anything to us” to which nearly every member of the class copped an attitude of “Then we shouldn’t be fighting a war, huh?” And I couldn’t have erased the “You got that right” expression off my face if I had wanted to – and I tear now, in this moment, just thinking about that day, how the children have the wherewithal to save the day if we just showed them the way.

The more opportunities we give them to think critically the less our downright societal foolishness will get in the way and does it ever get in the way. That came across to me in a significant way a few years ago when I was having the greatest time with some fifth grade friends of mine. We were engaged in a little intellectual play about stories of human struggles for dignity before improvising scenes from pursuits of such hopes and dreams. With ease they captured the likes of Cesar Chavez or Martin Luther King or Gloria Steinem.

In a quick run through under the heading of “struggling communities” women got their due. The disabled were included too. The elderly. The homeless. And then someone mentioned Hillcrest, our city’s gay community, and, in the very next moment, the mood in the room changed like the tone shifts in a stage or screenplay. Wild snickers and unflattering innuendos towards gay people assaulted the hope that had filled the air and replaced it with despair.

When I could finally take in a breath I spoke to them about wonderful gay people like Toni Atkins and Christine Kehoe who have made major contributions to our city and state – and a magnificent gay man named Bayard Rustin who masterminded the historic March in Washington DC in 1963.

Although I was shocked at their sudden behavior I wasn’t the least bit surprised. I know what their ears have heard and what they’ve seen with their eyes. They were mirroring and echoing the grownups in their lives so it’s no wonder that the acceptance of gay people in our “Heterosexual Superiority” society is so hard to realize.

But, in a farewell to me, they performed a piece about Langston Hughes and they pulled it off so enthusiastically and to honor it for its pure artistry I didn’t “ask” and they didn’t “tell” if they knew Langston Hughes was gay. The fact that they embraced his spirit restored hope in me and made my day.

Just today, a beautiful sunny Friday, a week from the last week in May, I sat rapping about the world with some of the brightest and cutest little first graders that exist in the Milky Way. We talked, among many things, about problems at our borders, about people trying to come to our country to work so they can keep themselves and their families alive. They were so wise and they left me with these words: “There’s got to be a better way to solve this problem than calling them names. It’s not nice to call people names.” Is that not ever so sane?

My, my, my. I left them thinking: if more old gray beards like me and grown ups in between can keep our children from getting caught up in the stifling small minded atmosphere that perpetuates the most hateful of our society’s attitudes, they can keep hope alive.

Color me gray, relating to green – until the day I die.

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

annagrace June 7, 2010 at 10:51 am

Ernie, as always, your breath taking prose shows the way. I stand beside you Ernie- color me gray, relating to green- until the day I die.


wendyEllen June 7, 2010 at 12:59 pm

As a middle school teacher it’s all I can do to not get discouraged. Thanks for reminding me why I get up every day. It’s getting scarier by the minute but there is always a couple of shining stars in my day!

Bravo Ernie…will be in SD very soon!


Beek Badger June 7, 2010 at 1:26 pm

“If you want your children to follow in your footsteps…. Watch where you put your feet.” Some famous person once said…: )


Ernie McCray June 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Especially my big footses (smile).


Ernie McCray June 7, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I just read a quote in today’s U-T that validates the feelings of the first graders I outlined in my piece. It was an article about the happenings at a rally for the overhaul of immigration. A minister, the Rev. Henry Rodriquez of St. Jude’s Shrine, said: “That above all the politics, rhetoric, anger… there is a more concrete way to address this issue.”


Shirley Sprinkles June 7, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Another artful commentary. Kids always get it right, don’t they? Keep up the good work–gray hair looks good on you!


Lauren June 7, 2010 at 3:58 pm

Dear Ernie,


Children don’t know hatred until they’re taught it. I just watched a 20-20 segment that showed children as young as 3 in a family that taught bigotry and hatred. They were saying horrible things, obviously mimicking their parents. The eldest child, a 24 year old daughter, was interviewed. Her parents had disowned her and she was heartbroken and missed her siblings.

Ernie, how is it that someone can disown a child? To me, that is the supreme evidence of being disconnected and far away from where love reaches.

On a better note, I attended a race and diversity conference a few years ago. One of the speakers was a big white guy who had been a member of a white supremacist group. He was under heavy guard due to death threats as he had left the group. He said what changed him was watching his young child approach the TV as a black person was speaking and spouting out racist comments. Good to know that sometimes love still can reach a soul that is lost and confused.

Ernie, I’m glad children have people like you. They teach us well but in the end it’s up to us to set the example. How good that you advocate for these innocent beings. We need them and they need us.



lane tobias June 7, 2010 at 11:43 pm

ernie, your mastery of the english language is apparent here…touching.


Carolyn Morris June 8, 2010 at 1:06 am

I’m sitting here reading and tearing up, thinking about how much fun you must be having, and thinking of the brilliant way you’re able to express what we feel but often do not say.It is so nice for kids to know that their thoughts and feelings are valued. You are giving them great information and opportunities to express themselves. I can see it all!
Carolyn Morris


Dan Simonelli June 8, 2010 at 1:25 am

oh my, Ernie McCray! How nice it is to hear your voice again, if only in word, to remind me of bygone days with Project Yano and the wisdom you’ve been projecting in our schools for so many years…and now gray years too! It’s funny how things go around. My daughters attend Einstein Academy and we’re so glad they do. It’s an extension of us as parents and people wanting a better vision and version to pick up the rear.
Disappointed as I may be of missing your visit to AEA, I know your words and heart and soul left a profound wake in the minds of all…just as you had done for me oh so many years ago.

Thanks my old, gray and green friend…


Frank Gormlie June 8, 2010 at 7:53 am

Right on, right on, right on!


EdwardIII June 12, 2010 at 9:02 am

Dear Ernie,
Lovely. And please consider also treating the little ones at Golden Hill Elementary to your loving thoughts and wonderful persona. AEA gets all of the attention in the area, but all of the AEA kids are at AEA because they have attentive and involved parents.
The kids at GHE need a share of the same kind of adult focus, even more so than do those at AEA. I read about the AEA kids getting lots of special attention locally, e.g., cooking classes from the owners of the restaurant Alchemy, gardening classes from locals involved in community gardens, and lessons/fieldtrips on environmental/ecological issues related to 32nd Street Canyon.
A few locals who fought the construction of the wonderful new GHE seem to take its existence out on the kids there, by not including them in progressive community activities. Let’s change that. Do contact the principal at GHE and see if you can find a way to make the GHE kids’ lives a bit richer by sharing your time with them.


Dan Simonelli June 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I must say, all those things you mention about AEA are wonderful and I can attest to the positive impact they have on the children. And not just the children, everyone. Look how it’s impacted you! However, there’s not one particular reason or impetus for the good things that go on at AEA or anywhere else in the world for that matter. It’s a confluence of events, people, motivations and desires. And as is always the case, it’s the work of a dedicated few that get a ball rolling…momentum shifting…perceptions altering…that then morphs into something bigger and better than the individual parts. So, I say to you and any others that desire to have an impact in their community, start first where you sit and think…then create a plan that gives you the chills thinking about how it will look when it’s playing out in full force…and then enjoy the journey!
And one of your first steps in your plan could very well be, You arranging with the Principal of GHE to have Ernie visit and then extend that invitation to Ernie yourself. You become the agent of the change that you seek…and Ernie, as I’ve always known him, will show up and do what he does best…be that change agent and pay it forward. And so it goes…


Ernie McCray June 12, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Wow, Dan, I just finished reading your comments and Edward’s and you pretty much said what I was thinking: I pass by Golden Hill Elementary often on one of my walking routes and every time I think “My, I would love to do something with the kids there.” And although I know I have something to offer, I never invite myself into such situations because I just don’t do that. I’m not one of those people who walk across a room at a party and go “Hi, I’m Ernie.” I’ve got a pretty strong ego but I always feel if I did something like that somebody would say “And you think I care?” But I never refuse when invited unless it’s at a time that I can’t be involved. Monica DeRosier at Einstein invited me to come by the school to do poetry with her class and other 6th grade classes and then she invited me again for the special all school event. And now the kids are greeting me in the neighborhood. It’s a great feeling. The other day at Grants a boy saw me and yelled “Hey, Ernie McCray! Hey, Mom, there’s Ernie McCray, my favorite poet! Hey, you guys, there’s Ernie McCray!” Man, my hat size went up ten inches.
Whoa, I thought this was going to be a little reply. Anyway, I hope I get to do something at GHE at some point. The children seem so proud of their school when I see them at play. I had the privilege of going to a brand new school when I was in 7th grade and I still, to this day, remember how special that felt, the smell, the look, all shiny and buffed, the sheer newness of it all.


EdwardIII June 12, 2010 at 7:21 pm

Yaay, Ernie. Love to you. Do whatever feels right.


Carol Schrammel July 29, 2010 at 5:50 pm

Dear Ernie:
Been listening to your poetry and wise words for 20 years now . . . back to the Longfellow days. You wisdom and insight never fail to inspire and your work with our children continues to be a blessing. Look forward to crossing paths one of these days soon.
The Schrammel Family


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