In a Freedom State of Mind

by on August 13, 2019 · 0 comments

in From the Soul

by Ernie McCray

Freedom.

What an alluring concept: The power to move about in your world unhindered and unrestrained under normal circumstances.

But such a definition of “liberty,” based on my life experiences, is but a fantasy, as I’ve spent a lifetime pursuing it, relentlessly, like I used to go after rebounds back in my basketball days – but it’s been as elusive as a black cat, at midnight, in an unlit alley.

Because just when you think you’re about to finally board that freedom train, a young black quarterback, in the NFL, takes a knee as thousands of football fans, his fellow Americans, stand proudly with their hands over their hearts, straining their vocal chords as they end the anthem they’re singing with “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”

And the quarterback, who made it clear that he chose to kneel instead of stand to draw attention to the glaring injustices playing out in our country, like all the people of color being shot down in the street by police – well, he was chastised as Un-American by the leader of the “free” world from sea to shining sea on Fox TV, a network that heralds white supremacist ideology like a barker herding thrill seekers into a carnival freak show.

And the man lost his job, and most likely will never throw another pass.

Still waiting to sing “Free at last, free at last.”

With that being said, however, I will, in a “freedom state of mind,” cling to what freedom I can claim as mine.

And at this time in my life I have to say that I’m as free as I have ever been or will ever be – living the life of a twenty-year retiree. I mean not having to show up some place for work is about as freeing as anything can possibly be.

But life is funny because I left my gig as an elementary school principal, back in 1999, feeling about as un-free as I’ve ever felt in my life, as my school district, San Diego City Schools, was taken over by downtown business leaders, movers and shakers, pushing “education reform” like slave owners seeking to gain control over serfs (teachers and administrators and counselors and the like) who had been slacking in the fields (our neighborhood schools).

And they went out and hired a “Massa” like superintendent, a new age Simon Legree, who fit what they wanted to a T: a U.S. Attorney known as the “Border Czar” informally.

All that was missing in his persona was a chaw of tobacco, a whip, and a mighty steed.

Having a man as my superintendent who was a professional at thwarting human beings’ hopes and dreams sometimes made me want to scream.

The school year was like a nightmarish dream, filled with impugning and demeaning and firings and ridiculous hires and paper work that seemed devised by an improvisational comedy enterprise. A crying shame in my eyes.

We were given assignments as to what we were to do and how and when we were to do it and these edicts always ended with: “No excuses and no exceptions!”

And he’d swagger from the dais like a gangsta rapper “dropping the mic,” leaving you feeling as though your dignity was being gnawed at in painful little bites, like cancer ravaging one’s body and spirit one cell at a time.

I tried to reach him, so many times, to make a plea for human decency, to voice how terribly far astray we were from serving children’s learning needs in the only way it’s supposed to be done: in a spirit of love.

With “No excuses and no exceptions” for not doing so.

But he just ignored my calls and notes and emails, making me crazy, dumping me between a rock and a hard place, wondering if I should dropkick this dude’s sorry ass to the moon or walk away from people I love: parents who gave my school so much of their time; gifted teachers who always had their students on their minds; children who gave me high fives and tender hugs all of the time.

I tried desperately to hang in there, pumping myself up mentally with famous cliché sayings like “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” and, in the same vein, remembering my college coach exhorting us to “Bear Down!” and “Fight Like Wildcats!” and “Get this win!”

To pat myself on the back I managed to make it semi-okay day to day until one day the superintendent made a statement at a meeting, and I had a slightly different take on what he said and raised my hand to say it and, suddenly thought “What the hell am I doing?” as we weren’t supposed to say anything at meetings, just sit and listen.

But, much to my surprise, he looked at me and said, “Yes?” with a “I can’t believe this motherf—-r” raised his hand” look in his eyes and tone in his voice.

And I stood up and spoke for a couple of minutes or so and, when I was done, before my butt touched my chair, he took in a deep breath of air and said “And as I was saying”… As though I didn’t even exist.

For all of my, up to that date, 60 years, I had never been utterly dismissed like that. Hey, Jim Crow acknowledged me, even left me notes in southern bus and train stations telling me which water fountains I was to use if I wanted to cop a drink.

His blatant rejection of me touched some dark place inside me I didn’t even know I had. If he had been right in front of me I have no idea what I might have done other than make three more black kids children of a father in lockup.

The anger I felt was so overwhelming I hoped I would never feel that way about another human being ever again.

And then along comes the 45th president of the United States. But, that’s another story for another date.

It was obvious to me, in that moment in time, that the only freedom I had in the system was the freedom to skedaddle. “Git my hat,” as we used to say back in my day. “Split the scene.” “Amscray.”

And that decision, like I said, has made me as free as I’ve ever been or will ever be.

When I signed the “y” in my last name on my retirement papers, I left the building feeling like I was Bojangles joyfully tap dancing down stairs with a big smile on my face into a life where TGIF comes every day for a man who no longer has to work for his pay.

And I have to say that I fully understand that I’m blessed and can’t help but wish that all of humankind could enjoy the kind of freedom I possess.

Freedoms that keep alive my “Freedom State of Mind.”

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