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.

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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Nancy and Maria – the Loves of My Life

January 26, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Often, these days, when the world seems grim, I think of how lucky I’ve been to have had two great loves in my life: Nancy Kay, a hippie White girl from Pacific Palisades, down the street from Malibu, and Maria Ester, a Chicana from San Antonio, home of the Alamo.

I remember my first image of Nancy, down on the floor of her classroom, water coloring with students whose love for her radiated in their smiles and comfortable postures, as they asked her, “Miz R,” questions like when are we going to the beach again?” or to Balboa or Chicano Park? “What are you going to teach us how to cook next time?” In that room there was so much rhythm and rhyme.

Some part of me, in those moments, fell in love with her too and we eventually got together and loved each other for thirty-four wonderful years and then she passed away and in time Maria came my way, a woman much like Nancy in so many ways.

And I fell in love with Maria in much the same way as I did with Nancy, …

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Feeling the Joy

January 25, 2021 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Feeling so relieved
these days,
joyful
for this chance
to change our ways
to what “normal”
used to be,
when the news
didn’t necessarily
give you the blues,
a feeling of being
alive,
like a young eagle
taking to the skies
soaring above
dark clouds that
for years
dropped rainstorms
of confusions and lies,

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Is Impeaching the President an Act of Bravery?

January 18, 2021 by Ernie McCray

Is Impeaching the President an Act of Bravery?

by Ernie McCray

Bravery,
like beauty,
seems to be
in the eyes of the beholder,
bearing in mind that
those republicans
choosing impeachment
for the president
regarding his role
when tyrants
struck at our democracy’s
very soul
weren’t being “brave,”

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A Life Well Done

January 5, 2021 by Ernie McCray

By Ernie McCray

Oh, it’s quite a shock when you check into Facebook and the first entry on your timeline says: “My brother, Elton Harris, is gone.”

The absolutely last thing I was ready for was hearing that a friend had died.

Elton was quite a man and I missed a lot of his life when his aunt, my first wife, and I, broke up. I’d hear about him every now and then, though, as he was my son, Guy’s, favorite cousin and close friend.

What little I heard was mostly negative, but without any details, so I never made any judgments about him. He just became somebody who was out of sight and out of mind, as they say.

And then one day, not too many years ago, when I was in Tucson for a reunion of some kind, I stopped at Al’s Barber Shop to catch up with a childhood friend and, as Al and I reminisced about old times, I hear “Hey, uncle. How you doing man? Elton. Aunt Sweet’s nephew.”

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2020 Has Me Dreaming of an Age of Love

December 30, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

2020. What a year, huh?

I was in Cuernavaca, a town I’ve come to love, when the year began – a little groggy because New Year’s Eve in Mexico is an explosion of firecracker noises and gunshot noises against a background of brass and drums in surround sound at decibels seemingly without bounds.

All that aside, with a little ringing in my ears, I had a wonderful time on the first day of the year.

Our dear friend, Josefina, sat us down to fresh coffee and chilaquiles y juevos, over easy, and papaya, manzanas and peras and cheesecake and we spent the day talking away.

Then the next day we drank margaritas and dined with a beautiful view of a downtown park we had just strolled leisurely through, looking into smiling brown faces, meeting a man who offered us tickets to heaven and we joked about whether the tickets were roundtrip.

It was such a nice trip and the rest of January also was filled with pleasantries,

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The Best Christmas Gift of My life

December 28, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Someone on Facebook posted “What’s the best Christmas gift of your life?”

My answer was swift: a bike.

I’ll always remember the Christmas it became mine. It was in 1947 when I was nine.

That morning, though, I was down as down could be. Because my mother had led me to believe (and she had never ever deceived me) that this Christmas there would be a bicycle under the Christmas Tree for me. But when I woke up that was not the reality.

I was crushed, to say the least, and I couldn’t hold my feelings inside and if my family had been an ass whuppin’ kind, my mother had a reason to tan my behind…

And after a little time of me giving my mother and the world a piece of my mind she says to me, giving me “the look” mothers flash when they’ve had enough of your ungrateful ass: “Shut your mouth and put your new jacket on. We’re going to Sergeant Hudson’s house to wish him a Merry Christmas.”

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Pursuing a Promised Land

December 21, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

I just finished A Promised Land, Barack Obama’s latest writing.

On the whole, laying aside my concerns about “droning” and such, abrupt departures from A Promised Land, it was an interesting and sometimes enjoyable read for me.

One way it was interesting was because as I read Obama’s words, Trump, of all people, kept popping up in my mind.

I mean like Obama would write something and I’d find myself trying to imagine Trump doing likewise.

I mean when I read Obama’s poetic description of his daily stroll to work along a walkway where, at times, he “felt the first slap of winter wind or pulse of summer heat” – all I could think of was a president who has, for four years, sat on his butt and tweeted, using words from a pre-school child’s vocabulary.

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In a Sabino Canyon State of Mind

December 14, 2020 by Ernie McCray

In a Sabino Canyon State of Mind

by Ernie McCray

My mind,
in these times,
often drifts
to Tucson.
Home.
Home to me
and home
to Sabino Canyon,
grounds that are sacred to me,

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A Musing Rising from a Photo Taken a Few Years Ago

December 9, 2020 by Ernie McCray

A Musing Rising from a Photo Taken a Few Years Ago

by Ernie McCray

As usual
my mind,
as the minds
of dreamers do,
was just wandering,
musing
as I scrolled through
a picture or two
and one made me pause
for a moment or two,
one of me
smiling
all relaxed,
kind of, if you ask me,
sharp as a tack,
looking like the world
had my back
on a warm sunny
Southern California day.

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Helping Black Students Shine

November 30, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Lately I’ve been thinking of Black kids, Black students, specifically. Thinking of all the teachable moments out in the universe that I would call on to help them shine if I were in the classroom during these times.

And the first thought that came to mind is I would turn them on to what it means to be Black at this very time.

We’d talk about what we’d all just seen this past NBA season, superstars flying through the air slamming monstrous dunks and shooting rainbow 3’s with “Black Lives Matter” sewn into their jerseys.

We’d talk about the significance embedded in a Black woman taking on the role of Vice-president of the United States, the first of her gender to serve in such a capacity.

We’d talk about how Black voters showed up in large numbers, essentially rescuing a drowning democracy.

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It feels So Good Calling Arizona my Home

November 16, 2020 by Ernie McCray

It feels So Good Calling Arizona my Home

by Ernie McCray

I’m so proud
of Arizona,
my home state,
for the mood I’m in.
For something
other than
its beauty
which I’ve basked in
since who knows when,
having hiked among its
Saguaros
and along the lovely trails
in Sabino Canyon,
in the Old Pueblo
when I was a little boy
not many years old;

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America, Who the Hell Are We?

November 9, 2020 by Ernie McCray

America, Who the Hell Are We?

by Ernie McCray

Whew!
Wow!
What a ride!
I was about
to explode inside!

I mean
as a dreamer
I had thought
this election
was going to be taken
in a landslide,

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Moments of Sheer Joy

October 30, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

Being a bit squeamish in this pandemic I hadn’t seen my family in a while but I saw some of them the other day in a neighborhood park.

Maria, my beautiful sidekick, and I were the first to arrive. And I had no idea when my offspring would appear as we are “see you when I get there” kind of folks.

So, I stretched my long self out in my beach chair and just scoped the scene, chuckling at a few squirrels playing “Stop and Go,” watching as children ran to and fro and I smiled and waved a “Hello” at a couple of passersby I know.

And then I looked up and saw Nyla, one of my twin daughters, coming towards me and shortly afterwards Tawny, the other half of the duo, drives up with her children, Lyric and Marley, and her sister’s little girl, Indigo.

Then my youngest son, Carlos, came and we were all good to go and I don’t know if I’ve ever felt, in my life, more sheer joy than what I felt in my moments with them that day, not to mention we were there basically on time – so there was no lost time.

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Feeling Warm and Sunny

October 22, 2020 by Ernie McCray

Feeling Warm and Sunny

by Ernie McCray

It’s such a warm
and sunny feeling
to sense
human progress
in the air
like the other day
in a Zoom meeting
with a few athletes
at the U of A
about inclusion,
human beings being
valued for who they are,
me sharing
how, in my day,
there was little to no interest
in social
or political change,
how we athletes, in the main,
just played our games.

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Pray for Trump?

October 14, 2020 by Ernie McCray

Pray for Trump?

by Ernie McCray

There are folks praying
for the president
to get well
and I can only exclaim,
“What the hell?”
considering that
when I got word that
that he had covid
after he has recklessly
in line with his modus operandi
laughed at it
and scoffed at it
and lied about it,

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From an Old Jock to Young Jocks at the U of A

October 6, 2020 by Ernie McCray

From an Old Jock to Young Jocks at the U of A

by Ernie McCray

Hey, you Wildcats!
I write this
after co-hosting
a fundraiser
for a candidate for City Council
in my town
who’s totally devoted
to social justice
and equality
for everyone
no matter their ethnicity,
color or creed
or background.

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The Twinkle in My Eye

October 2, 2020 by Ernie McCray

The Twinkle in My Eye

(Poem for My Youngest Grandkids)

by Ernie McCray

You guys
are the
twinkle in my eye.
And speaking of eye
hardly a day goes by
that I don’t,
in some moment,
see you all
in my mind’s eye:

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Will We Ever Breathe Free?

September 28, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

We Black folks
always wonder
if we’ll ever breathe free,
like others of our species,
ever since
we, caught napping,
were snatched
from our homeland
as kidnappees
and stacked
in boats
as contraband
and dumped
in shacks
as un-hired hands,
spending our lives
standing rigidly
for centuries
bent over long cotton sacks

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Caster Semenya, a Gift of Nature

September 23, 2020 by Ernie McCray

by Ernie McCray

One of my favorite athletes is Caster Semenya.

As a former half-miler I love the way she comes off that last 200, so strong, yet relaxed, at a pace the other runners totally lack.

As we used to say: “She can step, Jack!”

But people in the world of track have barred her from running track – unless she undergoes surgery or takes drugs to regulate her high testosterone levels – to “level the playing field,” not taking into consideration that, no matter how they feel, Caster Semenya is still a woman.

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