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.

Being Grateful for What I Can Be Grateful For

September 14, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I remember when
my grandfather
would talk to me
during those times
when the world’s
troubles and woes,
the likes of
extreme poverty
the fear of A-bombs
and Jim Crow
were keeping everybody
on their toes,
he’d say,
“No matter
how life was going,
you need to know
we’d best
be grateful
for anything|
we can be grateful for” so

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When I Think of Love

September 8, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

When I think of love,
I think of how
it has safely
taken me through
life’s dark clouds
and drowning seas
as well as through life’s joys
and well-earned victories;
I think of how love
has been sung
as “the only thing
that there’s
just too little of”
and being that that’s one thing
I’m truly certain of
I feel compelled
to speak to
all the madness
and sadness
I see to the right and left of me
in a society,
falling behind

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Do We Call On Our Black Anger or Our Black Love?

September 3, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ve been thinking of how my people have overcome so many things in this country. For centuries.

You name it, we’ve overcome it. But we just can’t overcome the anger that comes with being Black in this society.

It’s a Black anger, if you will, because it’s ours alone, a form of anger that’s always there, beneath the surface, like a low-burning flame that needs a rush of air to get it really going.

And, since it’s usually the actions of angry White folks that gives our anger oxygen, we can’t ever fully relax it because, in our experience, we never know when we might have to react to what a White person has done – to one of us. Or a number of us.

When it’s least expected.

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Thoughts About ‘Being Black in Tucson, AZ’

August 25, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ve been a member of our group, “Being Black in Tucson, AZ,” for a little while now, commenting on a thing or two, but I’ve never introduced myself to you.

That being said I’m an 82-year-old dude who spent the first 24 years of his life “Being Black in Tucson, AZ.” Since then I’ve lived in San Diego which is just an hour away by plane and five hours away by car. I didn’t want to go too far. Because I dearly love my hometown.

For its physical beauty and power that make it a spiritual place for me: hiking trails in Sabino Canyon above refreshing pools and streams; powerful Sonoran winds that you can lean against; frightening monsoons that give the Santa Cruz River a chance to roar; majestic saguaros with their lovely blossoms.

For how far it has come since the Jim Crow days of my youth when people like me were limited as to when we could

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My Sunshine on Cloudy Days

August 17, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

To feed my spirit
every now and then,
in moments,
I find myself,
singing “My Girl”
like I’m on stage
with the Temptations,
because “hey,”
like David Ruffin
and them,
I’ve got a woman who
makes me feel like
“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day” too,

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Reliving My High School Days

August 12, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

After writing a piece about how an old photo briefly took my mind off today’s troubles in the world I’ve found another that does the same. Very nicely.

This one was taken in 1996, catching me smiling and clowning at the 40th Reunion of the Class of ’56 of Tucson High – in a room full of 58-year-olds feverishly reminiscing about days gone by and about how fast those years have seemed to pass by.

The conversations were all over the place. There was, of course, the obligatory topic that every generation brings up about “The kids of today” and how we were better than them in our time.

The big questions of the night were “Who you like, Clinton or Dole?” and “What about that Michael Jordan and the Bulls, huh?”

I must have heard “So the Yankees are in the World Series again, what else is new?” a few times.

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A Kind of Ode to the Gray in My Hair

August 7, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

This is a kind of an ode
to my wild
and wiry hair
that’s ever so gray
that, particularly,
looked so beautiful to me
as I checked it out
in the mirror one day
because I happened to be thinking
how some old people like me
look at their gray hair
in utter despair
and turn it
into godawful colors
that hadn’t ever been seen

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Enjoying an Old Photo As a Momentary Relief from Reality

August 4, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Looking through a picture album to distract me from Trump lying and whining as people are dying and as federal troops violate the rights of protestors, one picture, in particular, caught my eye.

It’s a one of me standing on the top step leading to the front door of the first house I ever owned, a house that my daughter, Debbie, owned at the time. It was the summer of 1976 and I was taking a break from helping Debbie with her Lamaze training shortly before Cedric, her first child and my first grandchild, came into the world. Her future husband was out to sea with the U.S. Navy.

I don’t know what was on my mind at that moment in time but it very well could have been what had been on my mind for some time, thoughts of my daughter parenting a child as a teen like I had.

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Let an Old Man Hip You to Something

July 29, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ve always
thought of myself as hip,
up on things,
tuned in, with it, aware.
And then along comes a serious health scare
seemingly out of nowhere
and I’m feeling a bit square,
not so tuned in
and with it
and aware
because when I got word
that we could maybe
bring this deadly disease
to its knees
by wearing masks
and not getting too
close to each other
and washing our hands frequently,

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Sports and Politics Mix Together Quite Nicely If You Ask Me

July 22, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

There are a lot of folks who are complaining about black athletes drawing attention to Black Lives Matter, saying “Politics and sports don’t mix.”

Have to say that’s news to me since, in our country’s history, particularly, if black athletes didn’t confront the racism inherent in our society and in our politics, there would have been very little notice of a people’s struggle to achieve equality.

I think back to July 4, 1910. On that day Jack Johnson, an African American, entered the ring in Reno, Nevada to face Jim Jeffries, the “Heavyweight champion of the world,” in the “Fight of the Century.”


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Jiving Kids by Reopening Schools Just Would Not Be Cool

July 14, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

The orange faced man in the White House is talking about reopening schools and, in my way of thinking, that just would not be cool.

Jiving aka bullshitting children is something we should never do and opening their schools would be saying to them that everything is cool.

It seems like my work in this area is not yet done as I spent 37 years in San Diego City Schools opposing shining young folks on.

It wasn’t my intention to take on such a task when I began teaching. It was something that came to me out of the blue one day back in the early 60’s when my sixth graders and I were sitting at a school assembly.

A South African exchange student from a high school nearby had us literally “oohing and aahing” as she showed us slides of breathtaking mountains and glistening coastlines and splendid waterfalls and forests and deserts and grassy savannas.

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Freestyling My Thoughts on a July Afternoon

July 10, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Life a bit crazy,
Like looking at reality
through a grease spattered
kitchen screen,
trying to make sense
of a wide scope of happenings,
white dudes
thinking they’re supreme,
possessing superior genes,
spelled j-e-a-n-s,
if you get my drift
and know what I mean.

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Lift Every Voice and Sing

July 6, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I remember days when Mr. Sydney Dawson, one of my two favorite teachers, would raise his baton and we, the Dunbar Junior High Chorus, the best in the city of Tucson, would stand tall and proud and sing the Black National Anthem out loud, ending with:

“Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on ’til victory is won”

That song, one I’ve never heard anyone sing but black people, has kept us afloat, kept us scratching and crawling and marching, pursuing a victory that perpetually has seemed both elusive and out of reach. Much like a fantasy.

And then I look up one day and I hear a man on ESPN say that at all the opening games of the next NFL season, the game will begin with the words “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the opening line of my anthem, and I thought I was in an nonparallel universe. As this seemed so out of sync with reality.

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Keeping the Legacy Going

June 25, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

In these times of social distancing and isolating I’ve managed to still find something to celebrate. Like high school graduations.

I take my hat off to a brilliant descendant of mine, Alonzo (A.J.) Morgan, my great-grandson, who just moved his tassel from the right to the left at San Diego’s Lincoln High.

And I’m particularly proud that he’s following my path by accepting an athletic scholarship at my alma mater, the University of Arizona in Tucson, my hometown. Sixty-four years after me.

Different sport, though. I played basketball during my college days and he’s going to make his way on the gridiron.

We, however, both played each other’s sport. I could cut a figure on a football field and he can play some hoops – and we both have played a number of other sports. But we both dedicated time and effort to our favorite sport, the one we wanted to really excel in.

I can’t even begin to express how stoked I am in his decision to go to my school.

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‘A Nose Is a Nose …’

June 16, 2020 by Ernie McCray


by Ernie McCray

Lately I’ve found myself saying “Ewww!” a lot.

It began over a week ago on a nice easy summer day.

I was reading a great book and two young friends of ours were painting our hallway.

An odor suddenly enters the room. It’s weak at first, and then it blows me away. I mean it was like a farting contest was going on in my nose between contestants who had trained by eating pots full of spoiled pinto beans.

In those moments I wondered:

“Is there a broken sewer in the neighborhood?”

“Did someone dump a truck load of rotten eggs in the backyard?”

“Is a dinosaur decomposing in the canyon our house is in?”

I thought I heard someone walking in the patio and I almost asked “Hey, is that you, Pepe Le Pew? Pig-Pen?”

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Why I Preach to the Choir

June 10, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

It’s been said
that I preach to the choir
and I pretty much do
day after day,
hour after hour
as the choir
is composed of
my allies,
those who hear
and understand my cries,
eager to eradicate
our country’s
original and everlasting sin:
Besides who else am I to
preach to other than them?
Yahoos in Klan robes?
MAGA folks
who bow to a cretin

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It Seems George Floyd May Not Have Died in Vain

June 1, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

It’s scary looking out on our streets right now as pent up rage is released, causing fires and looting and rubber bullets being shot and tear gas deployed.

But in the scene I see more and more white folks than I’ve ever seen fighting for what is right, joining the struggle for liberty and justice for all, and it’s a pretty sight to see: a sight I’ve dreamed of and lived for all my life.

Finally. After centuries of supremacists perpetrating horrible unforgiveable crimes against black humanity, with very little outrage expressed by their communities, they’ve now seen something that’s cut through their compliance with how the country has treated black people, and this has bothered them deeply.

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It’s Way Past Time to Honor the Golden Rule

May 28, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ve been getting a few memes on my Facebook feed kind of around the theme that “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

Such a sentiment makes me shudder as people right now, who are way overburdened with a situation brought on by a deadly virus, are dying left and right all around us and all around the world.

I’m not religious but I was raised in a home with people who were religious to the bone, two of the truest Christians I’ve ever known: my mother, a soulful gospel piano playing woman who played for our church’s choir, and her father, my grandfather, a man who had sailed several seas and honored his Lord as easily as he breathed.

But their faith was reflected, less on cutesy Bible verses and the like, and more on just being respectful of their fellow human beings and giving way more than they received.

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Time to Make Our Nation True to its Colors

May 19, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Oh, these hair-raising
waving their
red, white, and blue flags
and wearing their red, white, and blue
caps and hats,
and red, white and blue
tennis shoes,
on the news,
unmasked and
confused and unglued,
packing heat,
singing the blues
because they can’t
do whatever
they want to do,

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Oh, to be Out and About Again      

May 14, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Oh, I want so
to be out and about again,
to just grab a hold
of my children and grandchildren
and great-grandchildren
and friends
and hug them
for eternity,
or at least
until my arms fall limp.

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‘Moments With My Mom’

May 6, 2020 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

My mother has been on my mind, ever so vividly, lately. I can see her in moments in our lives.

Moments where she’s waving goodbye to me as I take off for school or play, against a background of clothes to be washed and hung up to dry; dishes to be washed and dried; floors to be washed and dried.

Moments when she’d hug me, fighting back tears brought on by the sheer energy required to raise a son alone, a Howard University graduate of the Class of ’31, working her fingers to the bone as a janitress at the Mountain States Telephone Company, cutting hair and selling Avon products and doing tax returns and a ton of odd jobs on the side.

Moments when, because of her heavy load, she’d say to me, shaking her head and chuckling, “Sometimes you got to laugh to keep from crying” and the next thing I knew we’d be slapping our knees and rolling on the floor doubled up, grabbing our bellies – overcoming, momentarily, the “race cards” the country had dealt us openly and hatefully and not the least bit regretfully.

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Calling on My Fellow Citizens to Help Us All Keep Safe

May 5, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

If I have expertise
in anything
it’s kicking back,
being at ease.
Why not,
since stress,
can buckle your knees.
But now
after maintaining
my cool
for 82
around the sun,
I’ve become kind of an edgy

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My Son’s Music Plays On in My Heart and Soul

April 28, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I’ve been thinking of my son, Guy, my second child to depart this earth before me.

We had so many memories, running the gamut of father and son relationships but my thoughts have mostly been about some of our really special moments: going at each other on the basketball court, one of our favorite things to do; hiking along the Junipero Serra Trail on some incredibly beautiful days when the sky was clear and blue; a road trip to Sedona, the Grand Canyon, and Vegas on a Spring Break; lounging along the shore in Rosarito Beach for a week; him singing and playing guitar at my 50th birthday celebration…

And when I think of his fine musicianship I’ll always remember his graduation in 1977 from John Muir Alternative School, a K-12 school I helped create with some incredibly innovative educators who were absolutely great.

So much happened on the campus that year, students feeling their oats, enjoying freedoms not many students ever achieve,

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Still Dreaming After All These Years

April 24, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I had a pretty nice birthday, the other day, my 82nd such day.

I got the day going up on my feet, getting down to a funky beat. I posted it on Facebook for my friends to see, hopefully, as a treat.

Later I celebrated on Zoom with family and friends, got some reading and love making in, greased on some shrimp and grits and lost my soul to a moist super delicious vanilla pound cake.

But, hey, it wasn’t all happy and gay because I clicked on my TV, feeling a need for a brief summary of what’s going on with the coronavirus, and the first images I happened to see was a bunch of European American “patriots” waving “Old Glory” like crazy.

I mean it was a sight to see: grossly misguided misfits open carrying automatic weapons, all pissed off that they’re being told what to do to lessen their chances of losing their lives to a deadly disease. “Don’t tell us to stay off the street! This is the Land of the Free!”

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Thanks, I Needed That (Remembering My First Born)

April 13, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

My acupuncturist, a lovely person and practitioner, just brought into the world a little girl. I emailed her:

“Oh, Julia,
what a beautiful
baby Olivia is.
Like her mom,
the woman
with needles
that heal,
the woman with
such a soft heart
(better to mother with),
the woman who plays Miles
for me
as I relax
head down
to the music
and the treatment
that soothes me
and eases
my mind.
Enjoy this bundle of joy.|

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Looking for Light at the End of the Tunnel

April 10, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Wow, what a trip this coronavirus thing has been. I mean one moment you’re going about your day, maybe checking out a movie or two, dining with friends, getting a round of golf in…

Then the next day you’re living under a mandate where you’re to cover your mouth and stay in your house and if you do go out into the streets don’t come near to anybody.

It’s like you’re in a dark tunnel wondering if you’ll ever see the light of day again.

There’s something déjà vu about it for me as I’ve had feelings like I’m feeling now before. Nothing, of course, on the level of dealing with a pandemic disease, but an experience, never-the-less, of having my life changed, seemingly out of the blue. In a moment in time when my life was hunky-dory fine.

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Time for Us to Change

April 3, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Out of fear
and despair
there are folks
on their knees
in prayer,
pleading for a return
to normalcy
when this nightmarish
health scare
allows us to breathe
more easily –

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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,
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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