Thinking About Race and the YMCA

by on June 27, 2019 · 2 comments

in From the Soul, San Diego

Jackie Robinson YMCA

by Ernie McCray

An issue with racial overtones has come up in San Diego, centered on the Jackie Robinson YMCA located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

It’s caught my attention because I’m reminded of one other time I associated race with a YMCA.

First of all, though, I must say I love and appreciate YMCA’s.

I mean I was a Y brat as a kid.

I learned to swim and do arts and craft at the Y. I once held the pancake eating contest at the Tucson Y Camp where I also gained an appreciation for horseback riding and archery and backpacking and enjoying singing and roasting hot dogs and marshmallows around an open fire.

But back in those days, the 1940’s, I had to deal with racial overtones at my local Y.

It involved a great guy in many respects, a man who I liked as he was engaging and filled with play but he had this horrible habit of calling us black boys “8 Ball” which he stopped when I got up the nerve, one day, to look him in the eye and say to him with as much respect and conviction an eight or nine year old boy can muster: “We all have names.”

We were cool after that.

Those memories surfaced as I became aware of the problem with the Jackie Robinson Y.

The issue, in this situation, rose to the surface due to an executive director vacancy at the facility, one which a number of black community leaders would like to see filled by an African American.

But they don’t see the YMCA of San Diego as an equal opportunity employer and they base that on the fact that are no African Americans employed in any executive positions in the YMCA of San Diego County corporate office or at any of its 15 branches.

I’m with them as it seems a black person at the helm of this Y, in particular, would be a wonderful tribute to a great black athlete and human being, a man who inspired hope in his people.

The YMCA of San Diego County Board, apparently, from what I’ve gathered, thinks otherwise. They’re looking “for the best person” for the job and don’t see blacks composing a significant population in the neighborhood anymore due to changes in demographics. On top of that they claim that the black community doesn’t support the Y.

And for good measure they ask: Why, since there had been no African American at the helm of the Y in 22 years, hasn’t anyone complained about this before and will a “Black Face” be better for the position?

Wow, all I can say to that response is I would have gone about this matter in an entirely different way.

I mean I think a much nicer approach would have been for the board to say something like: “Our bad. We hadn’t thought about these issues you’ve brought up. We hadn’t considered the rich black history in the community and how putting in place a black leader at that branch of the YMCA would honor that history as populations change. This definitely is something worth looking into, so we ask you how might we identify someone who can maintain and build on the great work done by the last administrator?”

I don’t know but that seems more civil and understanding to me.

Hey, I was a child a little over 70 years ago when I dealt with the race issue at my local Y and the head guy didn’t ask why somebody hadn’t complained before. He just looked at his actions and changed his behavior.

That’s what I’m hoping the YMCA San Diego board will do: change their behavior. I’d like to see them work with the people who have come to them with genuine concerns about how they operate and find ways to better meet the needs of all communities.

Everything could be cool after that.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Geoff Page June 28, 2019 at 8:54 am

It is interesting Ernie, the difference between your experience and what the “Y” says publicly. I watched a presentation by the Y at the OB Town Council meeting this week about the plans to remodel the Peninsula facility. The presentation was mostly about all the wonderful things the Y does for the community and the presenter stressed how inclusive the Y is, they don’t care about color, sexual orientation, race, all are welcomed at the Y. I have no reason to doubt that but it appears this inclusiveness does not extend to management. That is really a shame.

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Avatar Dave July 1, 2019 at 3:38 pm

Ernie…. Great Memories from our Tucson days… back in the fifties…..
BTW…. I have this picture my mom cut out of the Tucson Daily Citizen showing Carlos Marmion, Jesus DelGato, Art Estrella and Yours Truly, swimming at the “Y” circa 1952… in the ‘buff.’…
Yes Folks… back in the fifties the “Y” was swimsuit “Not optional.’… I guess that was because most of the kids that went there could not AFFORD a swimsuit…… I have another story involving Whetmore Pool out by Amphi Hi school…. but I cannot publish it here… I will email you if you are interested….
Ha Ha
Dave
THS Class of ’56

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