On the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme

March 31, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

To ease my mind in my isolation from humankind, I’ve been basking in memories of better times in my life and I don’t recall ever having more fun than I had at the San Diego Fringe Festival in 2014 – narrating “On the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme” as a brilliant company of tap dancers, the California Rhythm Project, brought my words to life as they danced to my vocalizing and, in-between some lines, tapped to music, then back to my poetry, in an urban streetscape setting, kicking it off with:

There’s a corner
unlike any other corner
you could ever
conceive in your mind.
The Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme.
And it’s just that, rhythm and rhyme,
big time,
cuz, when your feet
step on the concrete
on the Corner of Rhythm and Rhyme,

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Living Through a Real Nightmare Everyday

March 26, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Had a fright
in my sleep
the other night,
dreaming one of those dreams
where you’re
fighting for your life
but you can’t move
or scream
and suddenly you
spring to
an up position in your bed,
saying to yourself,
in relief,
“Oh, thank goodness
that was a dream.”

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Are We Engaging in Social Change? 

March 23, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

This COVID-19 thing
is so far beyond
anything I’ve ever seen,
disease-wise,
and I’ve
been around a
health scare or two,
born to a mother
who, because she
had lost a lung to TB,
raised me
to practically seek cover
when someone coughs
or happens to sneeze,
to not, for goodness sake,
ever eat off somebody’s plate
or take a sip of their soda or shake…

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No Hunches, Please, as We Fight a Dreadful Disease

March 17, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

One never knows what life
might bring,
like this coronavirus thing,
a deadly disease
that has rolled up its sleeves
and got people shaking at their knees
afraid of themselves
if they cough or sneeze,
hording toilet tissue
as if it’s the answer
to being at ease

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

March 16, 2020 by Ernie McCray

(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.

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What is the Change the Democratic Party Wishes to See?

March 4, 2020 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

I look at the Democratic Party and I just have to shake my head – for how it holds back from doing truly great things.

But I happen to be a democrat. And that’s not because of the party itself, but because of my experiences with so many individual democrats over the years.

I mean they’ve been in the vast majority of people whom I’ve marched with, in my activism, carrying signs ranging from “Free Huey!” to “Give Peace a Chance,” chanting questions about what we wanted and when we wanted it, with the answer always being: “Now!”

Democrats are my peeps. But the Democratic Party? That’s a whole other thing.

The democrats I’ve been in the streets with are both dreamers and doers, folks who really adhere to Mahatma Gandhi’s hope inspiring point-of-view that “You must be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

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Citizens Born Here Whom We Should Hold Dear

February 21, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

The very words,
Muslim
and Islam,
conjure in some minds
visions of violence
and terrorism,
an archaic people
wishing hell and damnation
in the form of a jihad
upon our nation.

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Seeing and Hearing Evil and Speaking to What We See and Hear         

February 4, 2020 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

I look at my country aghast,
as a president
who’s barren of
any sense of morality
makes a mockery
of our Constitution
and our democracy,
crippling concepts of justice
and liberty
just as sure as he breathes,
while our republican senators,
spineless
without integrity,
irresponsibly
turn a blind eye to his sins
like the iconic three monkeys
who see no evil,
hear no evil
and speak no evil,

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Talking Love in Tucson at a Breakfast for Martin Luther King

January 23, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ve been asked,

as we honor

Martin Luther King,

to speak of what I

have overcome in life.

In ten minutes.

And I’m thinking “Wow, really?”

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Responding to Greta in a Different Way

December 24, 2019 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish girl, travels across the Atlantic Ocean to Lower Manhattan, in a sailboat, to save our world from the deadly forces of climate change.

For such a risk-taking endeavor she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.”

And our president, instead of offering her a High-Five, gets up at five and tweets that this wonderful girl is ridiculous and angry and needs to go to a good old-fashioned movie with a friend and “Chill.”

Say what?

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Thoughts of My Generation Brought to Light by a Cartoon About a Quarterback

December 17, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

A high school classmate of mine likes to share his MAGA influenced leanings on my Facebook timeline.

Like the other day he sent me a meme with Colin Kaepernick saying “I’m kneeling to protest injustice against Black men in America!”

In the moment I read that I couldn’t help but glow inside, so grateful for this new generation of freedom fighters.

Then, a cartoon character, Charlie Brown, says “That’s odd. You joined Islam, a religion that still owns black slaves, and you don’t protest against that.”

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Basketball Has Been Very Good to Me

December 4, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Late in the morning, on Thanksgiving Day, I turned the television on, thinking, in that moment, of what I’m thankful for: my beautiful children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, my sexy woman, my wonderful friends, my health, my pension, so many things…

The first image I saw when my TV came on was a basketball player, dribbling right at a defender and suddenly, ever so smoothly, with grace, pulled up and sunk a jump shot right in the defender’s face.

That very shot was always money in the bank for me back in my playing days.

And, in the blinking of an eye, I was reminded of something else I’m thankful for: the role basketball has played in my life.

I mean basketball in many ways probably saved my life – from the front end, giving me a kind of spiritual place to go to, a place where I would get caught up in the sound of a ball being bounced smartly on a gym floor, where I could hear my and my teammates’ pounding feet as we hustle down the court to the rhythm of a fast-break being nicely run, on its way to being complete – when all that was going on, old Jim Crow and the other manifestos of racism in America were screened out of my mind much as a dense cloud hides the sun.

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Drifting on the Winds of Love

November 21, 2019 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

I look at a picture of little boy me and it seems as though I’m about to gently rise and drift in the air.

And that’s how my life has seemed, like I’ve drifted in the air, on the winds of love, because I have truly been loved in my life.

Love is the first thing I ever felt – without knowing, of course, as a baby, that it was love I was feeling.

But I sure felt it, from my mother’s milk, from the soothing way she sang rock-a-by-baby” to put me to sleep.

From the feel of my “pinky” toe being wiggled and the bottom of my feet tickled while she sang about some little piggy crying “wee wee wee” all the way home to greet me when I awakened from my sleep.

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Wanting to Live for My Children

November 14, 2019 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

Life. Is there anything more precious? I think not.

But it can be crippling at times, for an extended period of time or, in moments, like the other day when I clicked on a picture of my kids, all of them.

My first impulse was to smile because they were smiling and looked lovely to me.

Then, suddenly, instead of making my face look like theirs, I was failing at holding back tears, shuddering, in that moment, as I realized I was looking at the images of four people when, for years, the answer to “How many kids do you have?” was “Six.”

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A Letter to a Little Boy Who Had His Life Taken Away

November 7, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I came across a letter the other day. A letter I had written to a boy who had his life taken away. A two-year old. Anthony was his name.

It was a letter which my heart insisted I write to maintain my sanity after sitting, as a juror, in a courtroom, where an attorney, a lawyer who was but a wielder of smoke screens on a clear windy day, trying to sway our opinions with what amounted to bullshit by any definition.

I mean I had sat for days being blown away, looking at pictures with arrows pointing

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Trying to Help Children Create a Peaceful World

October 29, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Trying to help children create a peaceful world is difficult, to say the least. The reason being, I suppose, is because war seems to be the default way human beings have chosen, over time, to solve problems between nations.

Children are groomed to accept armed conflict in such a world.

I mean I grew up in the 40’s running around with my buddies, loudly mouthing the whistling and booming noises of bombs exploding and the rat-a-tat-tat sounds of war we learned how to playfully mimic at the movies on many a Saturday afternoon.

We were grunts and swabbies and jarheads and flyboys all wrapped in one, anchoring aweigh and flying off into the wild blue yonder and storming beaches and rolling those caissons along, practically every day.

Nobody ever said “Hey, haven’t you children ‘play killed’ enough people today?”

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A Boy’s Dream Come True

October 16, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

It was a dream come true when I first stepped into a classroom of my own in 1962.

A dream born on my first day of kindergarten, as I sat at a desk going out of my mind, as there’s only so much “See Spot run” a five-year-old, who can already read, can take, for goodness sake.

Not to mention that school had barely begun when I heard a loud “Whack!” which was the sound of the school principal, Sister Mary Benedict, grand slamming my knuckles to kingdom come with a yardstick, like Willie Mays hitting a game winning homerun – because I had dozed off at my desk.

Needless to say that woke me up. Talking about “not seeing it coming.”

But how do you not cop a nod in a non-air-conditioned classroom in late August or early September in Tucson – freaking, Arizona?

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Restoring Justice Heart to Heart After the Racial Taunts From San Clemente High

October 7, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

If there is an American tradition that has lasted longer than “racial taunting” I’d like to know what it is.

It’s truly as American as apple pie.

And it often comes out of nowhere, rising at any time and at any place, as the Lincoln High Hornets Cheerleaders found out not too long ago at an away football game against the Tritons at San Clemente High.

Oh, they were just bouncing and dancing and prancing and chanting on behalf of their guys, trying, by the way, to hold their heads up high as the other guys were winning the day, big time, and the home crowd was feeling it, big time, having a grand old time, hugging each other and high fiving and dancing on their feet, their marching band tapping away with snappy victorious drum beats, the brass section blasting their horns until the cows come home…

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Teaching About the World

September 24, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ll always remember my first year of teaching, back to the very first day.

There I was standing before close to 40 sixth graders and I don’t recall at all what I had planned to say to start the day.

But before I could say anything I noticed that my students were looking me up and down like somebody assessing a used car at “U Can Trust Us Autos.”

I could tell they had questions on their minds, and then it dawned on me what they wanted answers to and I answered their questions before they asked me to:

“Six-five. Size fourteen. And, yeah, I play basketball.”

That set the tone for that year and for the rest of my career, a career well chosen because it fit me to a T, allowed me to totally be myself: to teach the way I wished my teachers had taught me.

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A School Day I’ll Never Forget

September 4, 2019 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

Friday, November 22, 1963.

I woke up that morning as I did every morning, cursing my alarm clock for waking me.

Getting that off my chest I got my day underway primping and talking to that dude in the mirror about what he and I might do that day to keep about 40 sixth graders at Oliver Hazard Perry Elementary excited and challenged and eager to come back for more the next day.

So when I made my merry way to school in my raggedy 49 ford (all I could afford at the time with the paltry pay a second year teacher raked in) I was probably humming and singing the tunes of the day: “Our day will come,” adding my bass; “You’ve really got a hold on me,” thinking of love with a smile on my face; “Walking the dog” for a change of pace…

That was literally how I “rolled” on the mornings of a school day.

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Still Trying to Keep Martin’s Dream Alive         

August 23, 2019 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

Nothing has ever resonated with me more than the “I Have a Dream” prose and poetry Martin Luther King delivered at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on a pleasant summer day in 1963.

I was about to enter my second year of teaching and I couldn’t wait to share my thoughts about Martin and about what he had to say that day just in case any of my sixth graders were, in their youthful innocence, confused about what was being said about him throughout the country – all the demonizing of him as a womanizer and the FBI describing him as a dangerous commie, a designated “enemy of the state.”

I was eager to sit down with such young learners and set the record straight, to give them a bit of insight on the man from a black perspective. Mine.

I wanted to throw in some facts into the mix of insinuations and accusations in the air so that they could know and understand that Martin, this remarkable human being, rather than being a threat to our way of life, was devoted to making us more loving and caring as a nation.

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In a Freedom State of Mind

August 13, 2019 by Ernie McCray

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!”

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Love Lifted Me! from Dripping With Love in a Sea of Hate

July 31, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me!

Oh, how I used to love hearing Sister Lillie Walls light up Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church singing that song on many a Sunday morn.

She had a silky deeply sincere voice that ranged between soprano and contralto that just settled into your bones and got you up on your feet and got you through the week until the next Sunday came along and love could lift you again.

We needed that like a junkie needs heroin. To “maintain,” as we used to say, considering we lived day to day in Tucson, Arizona, a Jim Crow town, where we, not to get into any detail at this point, were expected to, basically, stay in our “place”: out of sight.

Before I even started school I knew that wasn’t right.

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We’re Seeing Clear Signs of How Freedom Isn’t Free

July 22, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Like any other American I appreciate the freedoms we have, especially the freedom to express one’s self, as I can’t exist without speaking up in some manner.

But I just wish I, and my people, were fully free, free to just go about our lives, like white people, like for instance, not having to instruct our sons regarding what to do if they’re walking down the street minding their own business and a cop rides up on them with his hands on his weapon, at the ready to commit a crime where there had been none.

That’s the kind of liberty we want, simply freedoms like being able to sit down and wait on a friend to join you in Starbucks or swim at a pool or barbecue in the park without somebody calling 911.

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Hell Yes the Man’s a Racist

July 17, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

The dumbest question I’ve ever heard is
“Is Donald Trump a racist?”
as that’s as obvious a question
as:
Does Dizzy Gillespie have big cheeks?
Do school children like to play hide and seek?
Is Mikhail Baryshnikov a dancer?
Are drum majors and majorettes
marchers and prancers?
Was Gone With the Wind a hit
and Mark Twain a wit?
Could Richard Pryor and Robin Williams
do a comedy bit?
Does a major league player spit?

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Socialism’s Been Very Good to Me

July 1, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Socialism is such a scary word to so many people.

They fear socialism as an enemy of capitalism, depicting it, as I saw recently in a cartoon, as “taking money from one person’s pocket and putting it in another’s pocket.”

Come on, really? I know in our economic system the almighty dollar is treated like a king, but why is that a reason for looking at another set of principles with narrow minds?

I read a meme that said a “socialist is a person too stupid to know he’s a communist.” What the hell does that even mean? Aren’t the “Red Scare” days, so steeped in stupidity as they were, supposed to be gone and forgotten?

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Thinking About Race and the YMCA

June 27, 2019 by Ernie McCray

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.

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Tucson, the Town of My First Experiences in Life

June 18, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I read a woman’s critique of her hometown online the other day. She couldn’t stand the place of her birth, saying that the town was backwards and too “white bread” to her liking. And she didn’t feel like she ever belonged.

I kind of understood, at some level, where she was coming from as Tucson, where I grew up, was not what anyone would consider “hip” and it was heavy with white folks who could sometimes be a “trip,” going way out of their way to make me feel as though I didn’t belong.

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Why Should It Be Considered a Risk Trying to Get Rid of Trump?

June 6, 2019 by Ernie McCray

(Thoughts Inspired by Erica Jong)

by Ernie McCray

There’s so much talk about the risks that would be involved in trying to impeach the president.

And I’m thinking: Risks? What risks?

A literary hero of mine, Erica Jong, once said: “If you don’t risk anything, you risk everything” and to me it’s a bigger risk not trying to give El Numero 45 a pink slip than allowing him to sink the ship that is America.

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An Octogenarian Reflects on a Life of Writing

June 5, 2019 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Just finished year one
as an octogenarian,
glad to still be among
the living ones,
still holding on
to precious memories
that remind me
how good
life has been to me…

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