By David Harris
The Star transcribed this piece from an audio interview. We made every effort to remain true to the recorded piece, but some edits were made for clarity. To hear the original audio, click below:
David Harris: We’re here with Cory McCray, Delegate for the 45th District
Cory McCray: Delegate elect.
D: Delegate elect 45th District. We’re here to interview him today for the McElderry Park Star. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
C: First, I’d like to say that I appreciate the opportunity David, just to be able to get the message out to the real community and to the folks that really live in the community. Just a little bit about me, I live in the Overlea community. I live there with my wife, my three children, two little girls and a little boy, CJ, newborn, 5 months old. Kennedy and Ray at 7 and 5 years of age. I’m an electrician by trade with the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers, a small business owner in Northeast and East Baltimore. I sit on the executive boards of Bel-Air Edison and the Overlea Community Association.
D: So, you’ve been married, how long?
C: So I’ve actually been with my wife since I was 17 years of age. But I’ve been married for 4 years now.
D: About four years? Are your youth in any sports programs?
C: The young girls do go to dance and Furley Recreation Center right there off of Bel Air road.
D: And CJ is the newborn?
C: Yea, he is just five months old. He’s the newborn so he can’t play sports yet. He would be there if he could.
D: What’s your favorite sport?
C: I really haven’t developed a favorite sport because when I was a child, I was doing things I wasn’t supposed to do. So I didn’t really take the time out to play Pop Warner or basketball or things. You know, you play, but I was like that guy that you was cool- so you got picked up first. They picked me up because I was their friend, not because I was good at their sport. But I do enjoy reading. I enjoy reading about great leaders from the past because, like I said, a lot of times we don’t have to make or re-invent the wheel. We can just utilize things that were happening back before- there were a lot of things that were very powerful. They got us through the movement, they got us to the movement, they got us successful within the movement. I do like to play chess. I haven’t found myself playing chess in a while, but I used to keep a chessboard in my trunk. And I did like to shoot pool before my wife moved in. I did have a pool table right there in my living room. but as you know, when children come, you give up some things, and the pool table had to go.
D: What school did you graduate from?
C: So obviously as a child, I had some challenges. As many of us do. I graduated from Fairmont-Harford high school right there on Harford and 25th. I went to Northern and Emerson for four months.
D: So did you graduate and go to college?
C: I graduated from Fairmont-Harford. I went into an apprenticeship program– the National Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) apprenticeship program. One of the things I always say is that apprenticeship program saved my life. As a young man, when you’re 16 to 18, or 16 to 21, a lot of times you’re trying to find yourself. You’re trying to find direction. That’s one thing many of us young women and young men don’t always have. But that placed structure within my life and put me in different surroundings. I was around business owners, I was around people that woke up around 6:30 in the morning, and they got off work around 2:30 or 3 o’clock. They had a certain formal structure.
I walked in and off the street, having the ability to make $12 and hour. That was just unheard of. In my family, $14 or $15 was a lot of money. And that was the amount of money they made. And so, $14 or $15 was like you were doing a great thing! You were the biggest person in my family. But you tell me that I have the ability to make $35 an hour, work overtime, make 70-80 thousand a year? I’m saying, sign me up! I found myself doing that when I went through that apprenticeship program.
One of the things that I think about is: where can you get healthcare that is not paid out of the employee’s part of his pay? Where can you get a pension and annuity, which is similar to a 401k, without that coming out of the employee’s part of the pay? So these are the amenities that the IBEW enjoyed. And David, I’m from Baltimore City. I thought that they were hustling me, “So you telling me, I can make all this money, get all these benefits, and all I have to do is show up?” I didn’t have to pay to go to school- they paid me to go to school. And by the time my third year came, I realized this wasn’t a hustle. This was for real.
D: Any advice you have for young people that have trouble in their lives?
C: The advice that I would give them is to first: if they don’t think that they are going to go to college, go to an apprenticeship program. It didn’t cost me anything. I remember when my mom saw me going the direction I was going- It was actually my mom, I have to contribute it to my mom. She called the department of labor and asked them for every apprenticeship program in the State of Maryland. The Department of Labor sent her a book in the mail, and she said, “I want you to call every last one of them.” Like I said, her acts saved my life. But I would say to those young folks, because we do have women in the trade, to every young man and young woman, get involved in a trade until you figure out a direction that you may want to go. After I graduated a 5 year apprenticeship program, I did three years at Baltimore City Community College. Just recently, as of may 2014, I found myself walking across the stage for the National Labor College. So I did get my degree. And I got it when I could pay for it- so I didn’t take out some form of a loan, which many of us face- with college being so unaffordable these times. But if you don’t know a direction, I recommend it.
D: So you said that your mother was the driving force in your life?
C: I would definitely say that my mother is the driving force in my life. That’s a great way to put it.
D: A Single parent home?
C: A single parent home, yes sir.
D: So you tell kids that even single parents can be a driving force in your life?
C: It’s tough for women to raise young men as single parents, but you know, your mom… David, you reach points in your life that I’m sure we all experience where I wouldn’t be afraid to say that I gave up on myself. As young men, young women, we have nonchalant attitudes sometimes because we give up on life. That’s why we have kids killing kids. That’s why we endure this situation- we gave up! But what I can say is that my mom never gave up. She never gave up on her child. I think a lot of moms out there feel the same way. No matter how much trouble they get in, no matter how much trouble they face, how big it is- your mom never gives up.
D: Right. I can attest to that. So one of the things I wanted to ask you was… running for the 45th District. What exactly made you want to run to be a Delegate in this City?
C: So David, I know a lot of the challenges that young men and young women out here today face when they’re 13, when they’re 18, when they’re 21. When I went through that apprenticeship program we just got finished talking about… the people that I worked around were doing great things. They were small business owners and they had a great middle-class living. I said that these folks are no different than I am. So I found myself purchasing property up and down Bel Air Road at the age of 20. I want to say I reached about 24 or 25 and I realized that it wasn’t all about the money. So here is something I fought for all my life to get to this point, to get to this enormous amount of money. And then you realize that.
I had the Community Association President- I remember it like it was yesterday- a guy by the name of Tony Dawson, a big, huge guy. He asked me while I was working on one of the homes, “What are you doing to give back to the community?” So he put this massive challenge in front of me. And that’s what actually got me to my first community meeting at Belair-Edison. So keep in mind, I’m not going to the community association meeting that I live in. I went to Belair-Edison because Tony Dawson put that challenge in front of me. When I got to that community meeting within Belair-Edison, I realized that it was a lot of women that were running our meeting and were taking care of our neighborhood. So I found Tony to be one of the few men that were at front of the neighborhood. I said, I just couldn’t leave him by himself. So there you have a young man that always sat in the back, would look for anywhere that I could help. So I didn’t say much. I just kind of observed and looked for opportunities to help Tony help Belair-Edison. You see yourself mentally getting that it’s a business owner’s duty or responsibility- obligation to make sure that they give back to the community that they’re doing business in.
So I found myself sitting on Belair-Edison’s Community Association board, I found myself donating the time and money that was necessary to make sure that the community was successful. I found myself giving more time back to the community than invested in purchasing properties. And I also getting more active with my local union at this time. And I realize some common sense measures that I felt like were on a political level, or on a legislative level, weren’t getting done. I think the economics are very, very important to any community- to the stability, to the sustainability, however you put it. I think that when a person makes a decent wage, I think that your screen door can get fixed or your roof, those basic amenities. I think a senior should retire with a pension, or some strong form of a retirement. I don’t think that our seniors should live without BG&E, or not have water, or things like that. I think that when a child gets sick, or you get sick, that you should have affordable healthcare. So some legislation that was going on, it didn’t matter if it was in front of the city council or in front of the legislature, I didn’t think that it was right. It wasn’t getting done.
I’ve never been a person that just jumps up and down and complain about it, or rant about it. Just go in there and do something about it. It’s just like how you are working with youth- you’re stepping up in the community. And I felt that is the same responsibility that everyone holds. And I think that there are few that step up. But I found myself put myself in a position to actually help my community and say, “that common sense stuff is going to start getting done!” And that’s whay I’m going to try my best to do. But that’s how I got involved in the political system. Just trying to make it happen.
D: So seeing what’s going on now in the community, what is your plan, as the Delegate of the District?
C: So, we knocked on 16,000 doors, David. I remember knocking on yours and your wife’s door. But, the plan is economic opportunity, man. As I stated, when my mom presented the opportunity for me to go through that apprenticeship program, stepping up to get that information… my whole life changed. And I think that if you put that same opportunity in these young folks, I think that their lives will change. I think that you will see crime decrease. I think that you will see the housing people take better care of the houses. It’s not like they don’t want to take better care of the house- they don’t have the money to take better care of the house.
We knocked on two doors. We knocked on one door where a senior was living without a working furnace over there on Holbrook Avenue. That’s crazy! I got an 80 year old grandma who lives on Oliver St and I don’t think it’s right. So no senior that gave 30 or 40 years of their life to any occupation should have to live without a working furnace. We addressed the issue, but that still shouldn’t have been happening. Over on Cecil Avenue, we ran into a senior 80 plus years old that didn’t have working BG&E. So those things- I think when you present economic opportunities to any community, not just to Mcelderry Park, not Rosemount, not Belair-Edison, but any community… I think that we all thrive. I think that we all thrive as a community so there’s not people getting left behind. And that’s what I’m going to fight for, David. That’s my plan for the community. To make sure that our folks have the opportunities for apprenticeship programs. Our folks have the opportunities for affordable college. Our folks are doing what it and just taking a stake in the community.
D: Could I ask, in doing all of this, who is Cory McCray?
C: I think we all evolve as people. But Cory McCray is a husband. Cory McCray is a father. Cory McCray is a community leader, just as yourself. Cory McCray is an electrician. Cory McCray is a small business owner. Cory McCray is just trying to make every day when he wakes up count, you know. Just make that time count, because we’re all on this Earth for a short amount of time. It’s our obligation to try to make the best while we’re here.
D: We see, I see, Cory McCray around town at almost every event. Will your drive and your passions stay the same as it is now? I know a lot of politicians say, “okay we got here for this reasons,” and over time it changed. We’re looking for a person that we can trust. A lot of people in the say in the community, well, I’m not voting for a black man because I can’t trust him. Can we trust Cory McCray to help us get into a position where we can be economically sound in our communities? Or can we help get our kids on the right track for education because they don’t teach the right curriculum in the schools today?
C: So my answer to that.. that’s a lot of questions you just asked. I’m going to try to break it down into the portions that you asked… Will you stay the same a person you met whether is 16 or 20 years from now? David, I think once you lose that passion, you should give the community back their seat. That’s the community’s seat. So if we find ourselves spending 20, 24, 30 years and 40 years within the community’s seat when if you lost that passion 4 or 8 years ago… you have to say this is for that next person. Let that same drive or let that same passion dictate, because our city needs it. We’re losing power; we lost two delegate seats. So our population went from 18 delegates to 16 delegates. It’s a critical time to make sure that we have all 16 leaders strong within our City and representing our City because we’ve got no time to slack. That’s a reality right there. So I pray that I still have that drive when it’s 4 years from now. And I hope that if I don’t have that drive, I have the leadership or the know-how to say that it’s no long my time. I hope that a good leader would train the people that’s behind him, and make sure that next person steps up. I think that’s what good leadership does. That’s what my plan is. And hopefully pray on it, that I will have that guidance to do that when that time comes.
In reference to, I believe you were talking about the economic opportunities? It’s very important, it’s … so important, David, I’ve taken so many meetings after June 24th just to sit down with other newly elected delegates. Just to sit down with the partners that we have in the community to make sure- I’m from Baltimore City, I know how to hustle. I know how to look for the loopholes. I know how to look for the things that people may not see at that time. That’s the times that we live in. Everything continuously evolving. But looking to see how can our partners help us to gain- how are we maximizing our buck, instead of… I always say that some of the programs we have set up wouldn’t be needed if we got treated right.
D: You said all the right things. But how long do you take? How long will your plan take to develop? For it to start getting into those apprenticeship programs.
C: So I’m going to hit one question and then I’m going to come back to that one. You talked about connection and the frustration amongst our community with elected officials. I think one of the things we’re also missing is that connection. I think that people vote for people that they actually know. I think that David Harris feels comfortable that he can pick up the phone and call Cory McCray. I think that’s what will send people to the voting booth. 20% will typically just go to the voting booth. You have another 20% you have to engage. And you engage that by connecting with those folk. I think that’s very important- that’s why we knocked on 16,000 doors. That’s what grassroots politics, or just grassroots organizing, whether it’s on a community level, a union level, or a political level, that’s what dictates strong leadership.
And then in reference to how long does it take to institute the plan? I think that it’s just like I said.. you wake up and you make every day count. You wake up and try to put that puzzle together. Obviously, I’m given four years to try to make sure that that puzzle gets together. I think that in the legislature, this is a long-term thing. David, to get the plan, to meet the people… Everything is built off of relationships. So I feel good in Northeast and East Baltimore because I lived in there 31 years. So people know me. People feel comfrotable with me. People know that my word is my word. People know that Cory lives right there. People know, you know? It’s those things that have been established over a 31 year period, or over a certain 10 or 15 years… that’s some of the things that goes on in the legislature.
But my goal is to be as effective as possible within the first 4 years. So what you see when the workers at Hopkins were trying to negotiate a deal to get to $15 an hour. $15 for one of the largest employers for the State of Maryland. It should have been no question. I started a petition where 2,000 of my friends signed that petitions, and said, “I feel the same way you do Cory. The workers at hopkins should make a minimum of $15 and hour.” That’s not a lot to ask for- that’s $30,000 a year if you want to get serious at the end of the day… I think as a large employer, you have the responsibility. The people who work at Hopkins live in East or West Baltimore, they are the low-wage workers. The person who’s making $15 or under, where do you think they live at? The doctors and those that make $80,000 or $90,000, they are living in the counties. The lower tier, the lower-wage workers live within our community.
So what does that say about our community if we’re not willing to stand for it? So I’m saying that it shouldn’t take 40 years to make sure Hopkins does what they’re supposed to do in reference to paying workers what they’re supposed to get paid. That can happen right now. I’m not even elected and you can go out and do those things. But I hope and I pray that I can get a lot done with the 4 years that I’m there. that’s my goal.
D: Alright, well, there you have it. Cory McCray, Delegate-elect, 45th District.
C: Yes sir. Appreciate it, thank you.
This fall, McElderry Park will launch the BOOM! Academy at the Center for Grace-Full Living. The BOOM! Academy is geared towards youth and young adults in the community who want to become more engaged with their community, build valuable job skills, and are interested in making and building ideas into reality. BOOM! Academy workshops are action-oriented, and participants will come out with a product, business plan, or strong ideas to move forward. If you are interested in building websites, 3D printing, sustainability and green construction, writing iPhone apps, creating your own business, becoming a community leader, or have an idea to work on, BOOM! Academy is for you! Participants will have the opportunity to network and work with industry experts from around Baltimore in a wide variety of fields.
Our first workshop will be focusing on #Reconstruct #Rebuild. Participants will be developing a community identity for McElderry Park. We will meet from 9a.m. until 4p.m. at the Center for Grace-Full Living at 2424 McElderry Street on December 7th. Lunch will be provided. All ages, kids and adults, are encouraged to attend. Come prepared to think hard, work hard, and get a little dirty!
For more information and to RSVP to the first BOOM! Academy workshop , contact Vincent
Purcell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (859) 420-2437.