Still Advocating for Children After All These Years

by on July 28, 2011 · 11 comments

in Media, Popular, San Diego

The author, Ernie McCray, as a young boy

Many people have read my piece, “Making a Better Place for Children,” that was in Sunday’s Union-Tribune. My friends have responded with “Right on!” And then they ask: “So, do you think the U-T is on the up and up with all this ‘diversity of ideas’ talk?” And to that I say: I do. But we’ll just have to see, won’t we? I mean this is a “new category” of “new territory” for me. But my optimism lies simply in that they solicited me.

See, I’ve had my writing in the U-T before but never, like this time, at their request. I see a whole bunch of “a new day” in that gesture alone. On top of that I wrote my little essay as a member of the San Diego Union-Tribune’s recently created Community Editorial Board. “Voices for a New Era,” we’re called. I sit in this position as an invitee of the U-T, which also is a “huge” (picture Donald Trump saying the word) first as it pertains to me – and this has all been one of the biggest “Who, me?” experiences in my life.

I mean it’s kind of like I’m in the Twilight Zone because I have known a few moments when higher ups at the Union-Tribune looked at me as though I had just come to earth from the moon. Like at an event a few years ago when they were patting themselves on the back after shamefully supporting a thug-like dude to run our city’s schools and I asked “Are you people fools?” with an I-knew-the-answer-was “Yes” kind of attitude.

But this relationship, no matter what it turns out to be, came about ever so simply. I just happened to be at a mixer kind of affair and Jeff Light, the editor of the paper, was there as a panelist and in the Q&A I related to him how he, based on a few things he had to say, was like a breath of fresh air compared to all the higher ups at the paper I had come across over the years. I told him how out of touch and how demoralizing the Union-Tribune had always been to people in my circles: educators, actors, poets, union organizers, seekers of peace and justice. He listened, reacted positively, and we shook hands and said our goodbyes. Months later he calls me and says our conversation made him think about gathering a diverse group of folks together to help make the paper reflect the community in a better way. And, I’m thinking: “Has Scotty beamed me up or something?”

So it’s worth a chance to me. And I’m not going into it thinking that all of a sudden now the U-T is going to be writing: “Free Huey!” or “No Starbucks in OB” kinds of editorials but I already like that we’re engaging in conversations that indicate to me that they are open to ideas that could make it more reflective of the diversity of thought in our community. This potential for change for the better is a big draw for me, based on the paper’s history in this city. Plus, there are a few people involved who I know will help us “keep it real.” Count me among them in the deal.

I see this as another avenue for me to speak for children, a path I chose when I was but a child myself, often to my physical detriment, like one day in kindergarten when my arch-nemesis, Sister Mary Benedict, had us singing “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” a song that’s harder to sing than the “Star Spangled Banner” by more than a hair. I chimed in with: “This song is no fun. Why can’t we sing something we know like Caldonia or Your Feet’s Too Big?” And all I remember after that was there was a flurry of black cloth and desks going down and a whooshing sound and the next thing I knew I was feeling like I was minus a knuckle or two.

But I’m still advocating for children after all these years. In this experiment I will always have in the back of my mind the questions: how will whatever it is we’re doing translate to children; how will the outcome help them grow as human beings in the long run – or short run – any run?

For instance as the U-T weighs in with its ideas about, say, Balboa Park, down the line, I would suggest that they consider how families, especially those with low incomes, will be affected. Will they be priced out of the park and have one less place, one grand place at that, in which their children can run and play?

The truth is: what’s good for children is also a plus for us. And the closer we come to serving their emotional and social needs the closer we come to realizing a better community, a better world. I’ll be all eyes and ears for them. And I’d like to think the San Diego Union-Tribune will be listening.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

annagrace July 28, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Ernie- what a response to Sister Mary Benedict! You and Your Feets Too Big get my vote. Here’s to the perpetual kid inside of us


Ernie McCray July 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Thanks, Anna, for the revival of a tune from my youth. We kids used to love that song and we’d, according to our “culture,” sing it and dance it on the playground and just have fun – and then SWB would have us on the run. She didn’t like “sinful” music.


Terrie Leigh Relf July 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Congratulations, Ernie! I look forward to hearing more about the committee and UT-related matters from you. . .

I admit to being behind on what they’re proposing at Balboa Park. Is there a link for more info?

I grew up playing at the park as my mom had a studio in Spanish Village. That, and going to the museums, bringing my own kids there to ride the merry-go-round. I also remember when we could climb that huge rubber (?) tree, but now it’s all fenced off. . .



Ernie McCray July 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm

In this morning’s U-T there’s an article about the plans.


Dickie July 28, 2011 at 12:54 pm

However it works out, Ernie, however much you get to speak your real truth through the mass fishwrap the better for all the readers and all those kids whose staunch supporter you are. I do think its great you will be bylined there. Write on!


Ernie McCray July 28, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I shall!


Ernie McCray July 28, 2011 at 3:21 pm

Today the Union-Trib’s editorial was on the “California Dream Act” that Jerry Brown signed into law. The paper supports it but, as to “part two” which is being looked at by the legislature, undocumented immigrant students would be eligible for tuition assistance. The U-T feels that we’re just not economically sound to do that.
One of the members of the Community Editorial Board, Constance Carroll, the chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, wrote a response, also in today’s paper. She feels that an investment in these students would be fair, practical and prudent.
So, again, I see a potential for good things coming out of this.


Mick July 28, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Ha!!! “Your Feet’s Too Big” is one of my favorite Fats Waller songs! I can just imagine you throwing that idea out there with that rendition in mind. What a CLASSIC!!! Good to hear about the U-T. This is not the first time I’ve heard about this slightly different trajectory, but I’ll be curious to see how this folds out over the long run, short run, home run, rerun, bull run, rabbit run, etceterun (to borrow your play on woids).


Ernie McCray July 28, 2011 at 10:54 pm

Do run do run do run…


wendyEllen July 31, 2011 at 8:37 am

I have spent most of my life feeling like I landed on the moon…I still feel that way as I peruse the very different looking San Diego I left behind for more frequent visits than ever before.Not to mention my struggles even in the Bay Area. Being out of the box in education has been like being in a war sometimes but I continue on. I’m tired but I’m still here, doing it. The most powerful lesson for my students and my own children is to live the example I wish to teach…Congrats Ernie on being placed in a powerful position to be able to share with the world the jewels that are what you stand for…..


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman July 31, 2011 at 8:33 pm

I think the very civilized U-T Editor Jeff Light knows what a plus he’ll be getting by having Ernie McCray write regularly for the paper. It’s also to Light’s credit that he remembered meeting Ernie, recognized a quality and unusual person and educator and has invited him in to opine.

I’m hoping the paper will survive the business machinations of Platinum Equity of Beverly Hills — the U-T’s owners. I agree that it is a better product — slimmed down more than it should be probably — but with a cadre of excellent first-string reporters and loads less predictable editorial bias. And now they can boast having Ernie McCray op-ed to boot.


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