In a Black History State of Mind in the Time of Virus

by on March 16, 2020 · 3 comments

in Civil Rights, From the Soul, History, San Diego

(With a Little Help from Coretta Scott King)

by Ernie McCray

I had a very nice time, a little while ago, on an exceptionally lovely Saturday afternoon at “A Gospel Brunch” at the Educational Cultural Complex, “ECC” –  a place that means a lot to me, personally.

We were there to celebrate Coretta Scott King and her contributions to keeping Martin’s dream, for social justice and inclusion for all, alive.

I arrived in a Black History state of mind, playing in my mind, some of the wonderful experiences I’ve had at ECC, acting on the stage, a wonderful space that will be renovated from part of the proceeds from the day, or addressing a class or reading my poetry and attending special occasions like on this day.

I kind of felt that I was in a fantasy world, in a way, sitting among so many friendly smiling faces, enjoying a mimosa and some down home southern cooking – just appreciating, for one thing, that for three days in a row, I had been to ceremonies where San Diego Black History was being kept very much alive – beyond February.

I mean I really like Black History Month, any month devoted to telling my people’s stories, hopefully enlightening someone in some way, helping them to understand where we’ve been and where we want to go in this country we built.

So seeing the history still out there in March, to me, is like a basketball game going into overtime and you get a little more time to take part in something you truly love.

Like on Thursday night, days after our history’s allotted time and two days before the event at ECC, I was at the Barrio Station where Vernon Sukumu, a longtime friend and hero of mine, was given an honor, the Cesar Chavez Social Justice Award, for his leadership and contributions to human and civil rights in our town – and beyond.

I sat there remembering some of the moments in his illustrious social and political resume. Glad and proud to have been on the scene in those days.

Then Friday morning I sat at a memorial for George Walker Smith, a friend and revered San Diego icon who put his stamp on the soul of the city as a brilliantly innovative minister and school board member and as a man who gifted the city with the  Catfish Club, where movers and thinkers and activists, and anybody who wanted to weigh in on the issues of the day, could do so openly.

The songs sung in his memory rang with tones of Black History, songs declaring:

“I don’t feel no way tired.
I’ve come too far from where I started from.”
“God has smiled on me”
He has set me free.”

Another about a happy day when sins were washed away. Music that made your head and shoulders sway. And a rendition of Louie Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” made my day.

And then Saturday comes and I was literally immersed in Black History, sitting attentively listening to the chancellor of the colleges and the leader of her board of trustees and the president of ECC and other dignitaries speaking eloquently to the school’s history and its vaunted place in the community – I was loving it.

Black History seemed to be in the very air surrounding me, in the music, in a spoken word piece, in a silent moment in remembrance of community leaders, also friends of mine, besides the good reverend, who had passed on recently: Fahari Jeffers, co-founder of the United Domestic Workers, a seed Cesar Chavez planted and nourished in her mind; Carroll Waymon (Nina Simone’s brother), a mentor of mine, who organized dialogues that bettered human relations in the city in the 60’s.

The brunch covered all the bases, honoring living legends in an exhibit in the foyer of the school and two sterling pioneers at ECC were to receive the Coretta Scott King Lifetime Achievement Award – but they were ill and stayed home.

And that caught my attention because on that day a disease, the coronavirus, was becoming pandemic, and the word around the world was, if you’re not feeling well, don’t go moving about. Stay at home.

Now I didn’t imagine Bob Matthews, a friend and former boss of mine, and M’Lafi Thompson, with whom I’ve appeared on stage a couple of times, were suffering from a mysterious bug of any kind.

It’s just that I couldn’t help but think how, no matter what our color or our ethnicity or creed happens to be, we’re all just human beings, frightened when our health is in danger, or worst yet, when we think that we could die.

I dared to wonder, for the heck of it, if a health scare that has the whole world wanting to stay home, hoping for a vaccine or treatment that will make our anxiety dissipate – might that cause us to take additional steps towards making the planet safe for all of humanity, all of God’s children?

Now, of course, I’m not holding my breath for miracles. But my people’s history is filled with stories of love, of dreams dying to become true.

And with sister Coretta continuing to remain fresh in my mind, I still find myself in a Black History state of mind.

It’s a good feeling.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

David Gangsei March 16, 2020 at 9:01 pm

A wonderful piece, Ernie, and doubly needed in this moment. thank you so much.


Thomas Gayton March 17, 2020 at 2:51 pm



micporte March 21, 2020 at 10:55 am

always cool thoughts… black history is human history, a proud -beautiful /painful-shameful one, wish there didn’t have to be a “black history month” or a “Mother’s Day” to celebrate us…

but y’all, check out the wonderful Netflix series, “Self-Made” about the First Woman Millionaire business woman in the US, and she was black…. I, a white woman, really connected with this…


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