Thoughts From the Soul of the Tucson Kid

Follow Ernie McCray as he writes about his life as an educator, a father, a husband and a civil rights activist. We are blessed to have him here and find inspiration in him and his words.

Thoughts Prompted by a Book by a Hollywood Star

July 27, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’m thinking about Frank Cruz.

He’s an old junior and senior high classmate of mine who wrote a book, a memoir, Straight Out of Barrio Hollywood, a nice story of his journey from “the other side of town” in Tucson to co-founding Telemundo, a television network that broadcasts nationally and across the sea.

Before he pulled that off, he was a much loved and highly appreciated college professor of Chicano History and a well-known L.A. TV personality. A true transition from Barrio Hollywood, a Tucson ghetto, to “Hollywood” where the stars glow.

I felt so proud to have known him as I read of his accomplishments, the significant news he covered, and the celebrated names he dropped.

I couldn’t help but think of how he and I, in 1951, were part of our hometown’s history, how we ended up at the same school when Tucson desegregated its campuses. Before then Latinos, Mexican Americans, in Frank’s neighborhood were considered White although they were treated otherwise.

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A Book that Influenced Me: ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’

July 21, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Since the age of three every book I’ve read has influenced me in some way as I’m very much an empathizer.

But no book has resonated with me more than Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

As I absorbed his words I felt as though he was writing directly to me. I mean his declaration that education systems were designed to produce passive non-critical thinking learners, especially those relegated to the lower classes in our society, validated my very thoughts as an educator, making me feel not so alone in a school district that was standardized to its very core.

My man, Paulo, let me know that I was on to something as I indulged my students with notions of justice, wanting them to know how their country operates so they could transform it.

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Hey, America, Stop Tampering With Our Right to Vote

July 19, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

America.
I’ve so had it with
your evil ways,
especially the way
you make us Black folks
slave away
to just prevent you
from taking our right to vote away,
over-and-over-again
ad nauseam.

And what pisses
me off the most
about this is

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Music Tells My Story

July 12, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

“What musical artist do you resonate with the most and you feel best tells your story?” was a question posed on Facebook.

I could never answer that with one choice, as there are so many singers and instrumentalists on the list of artists who have, at least, accompanied if not told my story over time.

Billie Holiday immediately comes to mind. Hers was one of the first voices other than my mother’s and my dad’s that I can remember hearing.

I was but a child but the sound of her voice as she sang, that sadness and raspy-ness, touched me all over, and melted into my very being, matching what I, even though I was in my infancy, was already sensing intuitively about the world I had been born into near the end of the 30’s.

Loved me some Andrews Sisters, too, their boogie woogie melodies and jitterbugging and jaunty harmonies that led to harmonizing being one of my favorite things to do.

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Friend Thoughts

July 7, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I see so many memes on social media about “fake friends” as opposed to “true friends.”

They’re posted as warnings by folks who apparently aren’t doing well in the friend department.

I usually just glance at them but this one caught my eye the other day: “Pay close attention to those who don’t clap when you win.”

And I found myself saying out loud: “Come on, now. Really?” I should focus on somebody who doesn’t care diddly-squat about me when I’ve got friends who wish the world for me?

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Some Critical Thinking About Race

July 1, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

It never ceases to amaze me how we Americans continue to resist discussing the number one problem in our country ever since it came to be: racism.

That resistance has never been more evident than when San Diego City Schools decided to provide students with ethnic studies and anti-racism education and some parents freaked out and decried having CRT, “critical race theory,” taught to their children.

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Remembering Marv

June 21, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Lost my favorite teammate
of all time:
Marv Dutt.
We haven’t, over the years,
kept in touch
but I have fond memories
of how he could,
no matter what,
get the ball to me
with that instinct
great passers have
of rewarding you
as long as you keep
moving to a great
spot on the floor to be.

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Time to Question the Militarization of Our Children

June 17, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

When we say to a veteran or to someone active in the military, “Thank you for your service” what are we thanking them for?

I ask this question for the children’s sake, for the many teenage warriors, fresh out of high school, who find themselves off somewhere in a land, that was never mentioned in their schooling, “making a difference.”

I mean after World War II came to an end, has there been any real reason for our country to be involved in war?

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An Invite to STILL, WE RISE

June 14, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

STILL, WE RISE.
We, being my people,
Black folks.
Folks out here
living lives of
forever trying
to just be Americans,
free,
de-colonialized,
so to speak.
But, hey,
STILL, WE RISE.

And STILL, WE RISE happens to be a show of poetry and jazz that I put together with some friends: actor extraordinaire,

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A Retraction

June 4, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I owe an apology to L. Todd Wood.

I wrote about an article he had written in my recent OB Rag piece, “Wishing a Classmate Would Say ‘No to Racism.’”

His essay was sent to me via email by a high school classmate of mine who, as I wrote, is always trying to prove me wrong regarding race issues Black people face in America.

Apparently, my old school chum added information at the end of Wood’s writing that wasn’t the author’s.

Now, Mr. Wood wrote a lot about Black people that was alarming and concerning to me but he hadn’t written any of the things that I attributed to him after I wrote that he had brought “his rant to an end with an assessment of the benefits to our society if Blacks suddenly upped and left.”

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Wishing a Classmate Would Say “No to Racism” 

June 2, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I got an email from an old high school classmate that read: “Here’s a really good look at the problem of race in America today” in reference to an essay written by L. Todd Wood.

I seriously doubted that it would be a “good look” at racial matters as my old school chum finds pleasure, for some reason, in sending me articles that “prove” how Black people go about trying to fit into American society in the “wrong way” – and every way we try is the wrong way.

But I read the writing anyway, a bit curious as to what an ex-special forces helicopter pilot with a degree from the Air Force Academy had to say. And right-away I could see where this man was heading

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An Out of This World Moment with Steph Curry

May 27, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

The other day
I was distracted
from
the troubles of the world,
via the NBA,
in a glorious way,
watching Steph Curry
trying
to break free
underneath his basket,
looking for a quick score
instead of getting
to where he’d need to be

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America Not Racist?

May 17, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

To the premise at America is not racist
I can hear my mother say
“You could have fooled me”
with all that
sweeping and dusting
and mopping
she did at AT&T
with her Howard University
college degree,
around 66 years
after slavery,
Jim Crow
then at the helm
of Black folk’s
not mattering,
a complaint
still alive today
in the USA.

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Feeling Langston

May 11, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Feeling Langston.
Mr. Hughes.
Feeling how he could piece together
a rhyme
that gives you the blues
or string a line of words
sweet
as the floral taste
of late summer
honeydew,
making
Black folk’s hearts
sing
like a bird,
once caged,

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Liberty and Justice for All at Our Beck and Call

May 6, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Hints of “Liberty and Justice for All” have come upon us suddenly like waters rushing from a broken dam, washing away long held resistance to social and political change.

How else can one explain a shift from disparaging notions such as “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” as well, to where a man can marry a man, and a woman a woman.

Legally. All across the country.

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Feeling Grateful for My Mother

April 30, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ve been thinking about my mother as Mother’s Day nears, wearing that smile she wore when I brought home good grades, or had done a good deed, or scored a bunch of baskets.

Hers was a beautiful smile, befitting a beautiful woman.

And, I can see her not smiling, too, standing with her hands on her hips, flashing me a look that could change a charging lion’s mind, when I had crossed a line.

The biggest line for me to cross with her was lying.

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A Scare of Scares

April 27, 2021 by Ernie McCray

By Ernest McCray

Carlos, my youngest
and now only son,
has Covid-19.
But he’s got the battle won
it seems.

Yet, when the news reached me,
as quick as
a flash
of lightening
streaking across
the sky,
ghostly like images of
Debbie and Guy,
two children of mine
who have lived and died,
floated before my eyes
and I became weak.

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Thanks to a Jury for Keeping Hope Alive

April 22, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Dear Jury: Waiting for your verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial was agonizing. No pun intended, because of what the trial was all about, but I could hardly breathe.

But when it was announced, regarding all charges, that you had found him guilty as guilty can be, air rushed from me like a river pouring into the sea.

I’ve never felt more relieved. But what does it really mean?

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Digging 83

April 19, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

There were times
when I was 82
that 83
didn’t seem in the cards
for me,
as Covid-19
had come on the scene
causing a run
on ventilator machines,
not caring a wit
whose clock it cleaned,
didn’t matter
if you were a pauper or a queen,

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A Nice Day Via a Haircut, a Couple of Tight Hugs, and a Meal at a Cafe

April 12, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I had a very nice day the other day.

Not because, “I didn’t,” as Ice Cube once rapped, “have to use my AK,” which I don’t happen to own anyway, by the way, but because I got my first haircut in many a day, not wanting, during the pandemic, to give into my vanity in any way. No sirree. I took that stuff seriously.

And my trip to the barber shop, one I had never visited, was just what I needed in my path back to normalcy. Whatever that happens to be. I stepped into the place, walking one kind of way, and then suddenly I put a little dance in my step as I sought a seat, moving to the beat of some rather mellow funky R&B sounds playing in the background and I sat down slightly moving my head and shoulders to the feeling that was enveloping me.

And the next thing I knew I was engaged in some playful Black barbershop repartee

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A Team That Believes in Change

April 8, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Wow! What a game!

A game that was truly anybody’s game as the University of Arizona Women Wildcat Basketball team lost to Stanford, 54 to 53.

A “March Madness” NCAA Championship game that ended like a well-crafted suspenseful drama where you really don’t know how it’s going to end until the very end of the last scene…

Oh, it was so much fun seeing those young athletes chasing their dream, steam rolling over one team like they were merely running drills, then scratching and crawling to get a win, then, voila, they were enjoying the thrill of being in the “Sweet Sixteen,” the “Elite Eight,” and the “Final Four,” rings on a ladder upon which no Wildcat women had ever climbed before.

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A Little Story of Bear Down Gym and Me

April 2, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

This is a little story about a place called Bear Down Gym and me.

I just found out that it’s in the National Register of Historic Places and an historic place is exactly what it is to me.

We were tight. It provided me a space that eventually led to me being in my school’s Sports Hall of Fame and Basketball Ring of Honor.

In between its bleacher-ed walls I’d do my thing to foot stomping cheers and applause that still remain as music to my ears after sixty-one years.

I loved every inch of the building, even the dead spot on its court that no one could apparently fix. But for a relationship to work you have to accept a pimple or a wart or two in the mix.

I can just picture myself, back then, walking to this beloved gym, on a game day, slowly putting on my game face.

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When I See Stacey

March 25, 2021 by Ernie McCray

When I See Stacey

by Ernie McCray

When I see Stacey
I feel pride
for my people’s history,
for how we
journeyed across the sea,
packed like spoons,
between the holds
and decks of slave ships,
shackled,
starving,
suffocating
in our very misery,
snatched from Mother Africa,
our homeland,
like the cotton
we would pick
in the Americas,
on the first leg
of a rocky path
to an as yet still undisclosed
destiny.

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Looking Back at the Year With a Smile

March 22, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Someone, unknown, once wrote “When life gives you a hundred reasons to cry, show life that you have a thousand reasons to smile.“

I can’t help but say amen to that just from having, the other day, read my journal about the past year and noticing how in between my comments about the enormous loss of human lives and a dangerous looney-ass president’.’ string of improvised lies, and wide political divides, and the like, there were so many entries that literally made me smile.

Especially one about me swatting a pesky fly just to see him die, borrowing from a Johnny Cash line.

And I sure smiled a lot at what I wrote about visiting Maria’s family and friends in San Antonio, home of the Alamo, and in Jalapa, Cuernavaca, Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo in the beautiful country of Mexico.

I couldn’t help but smile as my words made me recall how I, after being such a recluse, finally dared to go out during the pandemic and wined and dined and laughed outdoors with dear friends, wearing masks and keeping a distance.

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Rapper Mellow’s Epiphany of Love and Hope

March 15, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

One day
Rapper Mellow,
known for his
smooth flow
was kicking it in his studio,
free stylin’,
spittin’ lyrics
‘bout
nigga this
and nigga that
and bitches and hos
and who
had more
riches and fame,

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The Ring of Honor Represents the ‘Wow’ Moments of My Life

March 5, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

For being able to basically snatch rebounds and whip outlet passes to start fast breaks and swish the ball through the hoop from all over the place, a space has been made for me, alongside some other guys who could really play, in the “Basketball Ring of Honor” at my alma mater, the U of A.

Just the other day.

And pretty much all I can say is “Wow!”

I’m loving it and how.

And I’ve loved my university and its teams since before I knew what a basketball was.

I became a fan at my mother’s breast as she listened to Arizona Wildcat football and basketball games on the radio, humming soothing lullabies.

I used to pick cotton in Marana on Saturdays so I could pay for a cheap seat in the knothole section at the night’s football game and a butterscotch milkshake at Dairy Queen on my way home from the game.

Did the same thing after track meets, basketball, and baseball games.

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‘Day of Absence,’ a Drama I Can’t Wait to See

February 25, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I just had
one of the nicest experiences
of my lifetime
via a dramatic piece,
“Day of Absence,”
a Douglas Turner Ward
masterpiece
of a play
on Zoom,
each actor
sitting
at their own place
in a room
facing a Mac
or a PC,
scrolling scripts
on a split screen
against a green screen,

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February 6 – Then and Now

February 10, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I got my first vaccine for covid-19 on February 6, 2021. One more to go for this old son of a gun.

But when I got back home after my shot I was reminded that this wasn’t the first time that February 6 was special to me, since on that day 61 years ago I took to the court with my teammates in Bear Down Gym at the University of Arizona and got to shaking and baking and whipping outlet passes to start fast breaks and shot the lights out all over the place, and came away with 46 points, a record that stands to this day.

The fun and glory of that will never go away.

And I couldn’t help but think, in those moments, what a difference six decades can make in one’s life. In so many ways. I was so strong back then physically, even with a bad back, something that’s plagued me since those days.

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Pick Out Your Peak and Climb (Thoughts with Black History on My Mind)

February 5, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Black History Month is in the eye of the beholder it seems, with some saying that it’s too short of a month or that it’s an excuse to give Black folks a cold shoulder the rest of the year.

But to me it’s a month to reminisce about heroes in my personal Black history, people I hold dear.

Like my grandfather who lived the first fourteen years of his life on a sharecropping plantation in Hawkinsville, Georgia, late in the 19th Century, until the attacks on his dignity and his sanity and humanity became more than he could bear to any degree.

Sometimes I can see him in my mind on the day when he decided he had enough, squaring his broad powerful shoulders before snatching a sadistic foreman off his horse and pounding him into the ground unmercifully

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The GOP Just Might Be Our Country’s Number One Enemy

February 2, 2021 by Ernie McCray

The GOP Just Might Be Our Country’s Number One Enemy

by Ernie McCray

Much to my chagrin
I saw the ex-president
in a picture
wearing a
sickening grin,
standing
next to
the House Minority Leader
sporting the same
devious smile
above his chin,
signifying
that, in spite
of his friend’s
terrifying insurrection
against our nation,
the GOP
was still behind

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