September 5, 2008

Wishes and Hopes from Having Been a Black Child

By Ernie McCray

I’ve been asked to help organize a conference locally that will address the enormous problems facing black children.

I signed on. The words, “black children,” was the draw for me. Hey, I was a black child a long time ago. That experience let me know that a black child, no matter his or her generation, has a hard row to hoe.

It seemed that just about every time I looked up while growing up in Tucson, my hometown, there would be old Jim Crow. He dictated where I could or couldn’t sit at the picture show. He refused me service in cafes. He opened the gate to only one pool where I could swim. I could skate at the rink only on one day because of him.

Massa Crow wreaked havoc in my community, making so many feel that there was no way they would ever become first class citizens in this country, in their lifetime. He caused them to: drink way too much whisky or wine or stuporize their God given brains, trying to ease their pain by shooting heroin through their veins. Or they just sat down and let life pass them by. And sure enough a number of childhood friends of mine mimicked what they saw and deprived themselves of becoming all they could be - and passed that model on to future generations.

Jim Crow, in his in-your-face form, has been dead a long time. But what he sewed has lead to the problems in our black communities today. Why else are our neighborhoods riddled with crackhouses and crime, with so many of our children killing other children all the time? For what other reason are some of our children growing up to only go to jail or going to school only to fail, claiming that getting good grades is “acting white?”

However, though, a lot of us from years past to now “have made it” as they say. How did we do it? How did we overcome and become: providers, husbands and wives, soccer moms and dads and members of the PTA? How did we become lovers of art and beauty, people who hike in the wilds and swim in the sea, and travel the world, and read books of every kind? To borrow a line from an old Bing Crosby tune, how were we able to “accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative and not mess with Mr. In-between?”

All that being said, I’m looking for the conference to find ways we can duplicate, on a larger scale in the black community, what influenced those of us who “have made it.”

Not every child today will have a mother like mine who exposed me to many of the world’s wonders. But maybe more and more parents can be made to understand that if they simply read to their children from books and read to them along grocery aisles and everywhere they go - well, their children would hit kindergarten running.

When I ran to and fro at play a few of the grownups in my neighborhood would say: “How ya doing, young man, are you still making the honor roll? Good. You keep it up, you hear? Like some lemonade?” Is there a way to make more grownups play a role in raising the children on their block?

My church was youth oriented. Youth Sunday was left, pretty much, in our hands. We had a junior choir and a softball team. Easter Sunday they hid enough eggs for each of us and on the fourth of July they filled us with barbecue and watermelon and homemade ice cream. We children put on plays. We’d recite little biblical memory rhymes and the congregation would act as if we were the greatest orators of all times. Could there be more churches like that old church of mine?

School. At Dunbar Jr. High, and Tucson High, if you were an artist, you’d get to draw or paint or sculpt. If you were an athlete there were more than enough balls to go around. If you were a singer you’d get to sing. Dancers danced. Getting good grades was all right, not “acting white.” Could we create more schools like the ones in my past?

When the conference is over I hope we will have designed practices in our community wherein the positives far outweigh the negatives and we won’t have messed with Mr. In-between.

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