Ernie McCray blogs

Ernie McCray: Learning about beauty from the ground and over the mountaintops

Ernie McCray

Ernie McCray

EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for before the site ceased current-events operations earlier this year. He agreed to continue offering his opinion and insight with about Arizona Wildcats athletics. McCray also writes blogs for

With all the talk about
race, of late,
I recall lessons learned
a long time ago
that enabled me to alter
my emotional state
when it comes to matters of race.
Growing up
I would occasionally, with tears in my eyes,
ask my mother who was loving and wise,
why some white people were so mean.
What had I done to them,
I wanted so much to have explained,
to make them look at me
with their bodies all quivery
at the very sight of me,
in such a way as if they had chugged
raw lemon juice
from a pint sized mug.
She’d give me a hug,
and say something like:
“Child, I don’t know, truthfully.
It just seems that some people obviously
can go about their lives with no sense
of tenderness or decency
and think of themselves
as above folks
like you and me.
I’m so sorry that waiter
wouldn’t serve you
and called you a name.
But that’s his own burden,
his own shame.”
And then she was likely
to grab a 78,
and gently place the needle down
for it to play
and our little duplex would suddenly be
filled with the sounds of musical artists from
Count Basie to Tommy Dorsey
to Sammy Kaye to Billie Holiday.
And the poetry, and the melodies
and the riffs and changes
played in a variety of keys,
would almost immediately
send my pain away.
Beauty, I came to realize, can save the day.

(Flickr Creative Commons photo)

(Flickr Creative Commons photo)

And from what my grandfather,
when he would take me under his wings,
had to say in regards to my querying,
I gleaned
that instead of lingering
on those who are mean,
I’d get more out of life in the company
of kind loving
folks who
care about all of humanity’s
well being.
He’d say: “There are many beautiful people,
son, who are well meaning.
They come in all colors and ways of seeing.
Look around for the Beauty
that surrounds all human beings.”
So Beauty, I found, can be touched like a work of art
and heard when birds sing,
and it can be smelled and tasted
and seen
in a multitude of guises:
leaves swinging and swaying
in a gentle breeze;
a sexy being
sauntering tantalizingly down the street
ever so rhythmically and at ease;
visions of
snow capped mountains
in a desert scene.

And I’m reminded of a stretch of mountains,
The Santa Catalinas,
that expanded my learned fascination with Beauty.
When my simple hopes and dreams,
like of swimming in any pool,
or going to any school,
or walking down the street
without some “serve and protect” fool
messing with me when all I was trying to do
was look cool –
when such as all that seemed
so overly flooded with despair,
I would look at that mountain
that stood so tall and proud
and I would breathe in deeply
the scorching air of summer
or the dry cold winter air –
it was all, to me, in those moments,
the freshest of air
as my mind
would fly like an eagle over those magnificent peaks
and leave Jim Crow behind.
And, in this new world,
beyond the mountains’ range,
I would view, in my fancy, Beauty
as far as I could see,
a world where everyone
was at liberty
to simply be
who they were meant to be,
human beings
treated justly
with dignity,
living free.

I learned in my travels of fantasy
over a mountaintop
that Beauty can be dreamed
in the face of society’s hateful schemes,
dreams combined with
actions that stand in the face
of such happenings.
So when a young brother in one gang
loses his life at the hands of someone like him
in a rival gang,
or when more and more of them fail
in school and end up in jail
or they are hailed
and asked for ID’s
and then shot down unarmed in the streets,
I take moments to dream dreams
of Beauty,
flowers in a field,
gentle spring rains,
roaring waterfalls.
red soiled terrain,
sunrises and sunsets,
a children at play scene…
And then fortified with images
both powerful and serene,
I join those who dare
to row the boats of change upstream
to alter the further erosion
of a people’s hopes and dreams.

Beauty makes my spirit sing
of the good human beings
could accomplish
if our minds and hearts
were invested
in such things.
To that I say,
Let Beauty ring.


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