Forward, a statue representing Wisconsin's motto, wearing a hoodie.  At the State Capitol.  Photo by Callen Harty

Forward, a statue representing Wisconsin’s motto, wearing a hoodie. At the State Capitol. Photo by Callen Harty.

When I arrived at the candlelight vigil for Trayvon Martin there was one other person there, a young African-American male who asked my name and then introduced himself as Ibraham, the Muslim variation of the Judeo-Christian prophet Abraham. Shortly two women came by and also asked my name and introduced themselves. I felt incredibly welcome. Soon others began to show up and before long there were dozens of people there of varying ethnicities, all feeling called to be there at that moment in time.

Someone brought a box of candles and cups to put them in and I heard a woman say, “The red candles represent blood and the white ones are for hope.” So often we do things without fully contemplating the meaning of what we are doing, so the thoughtful symbolism appealed to my philosophical side in a deep way. I held a white candle, not only for Trayvon, but also for those of us who remain. It is my fervent hope that something good will come of this. It is in my nature to hold onto hope.

In the African-American community the symbolic red is all too real. Our country’s history with minorities is brutal, particularly those whose skin color is black. In my mind (and I’m sure in others) the blood red of the candles represented those beaten at the hands of masters, lynched at the hands of southern bigots, shot by fearful whites in cities all over the country. It represented Trayvon Martin, Bo Morrison, Troy Davis, James Byrd Jr., Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., Derek Williams, countless bodies and souls lost to blood lust and hatred and most of them not even remembered except by those who loved them most. It represented the emotional and spiritual beating of an entire race of people by the enactment of Jim Crow laws to restrict voting in the last century and the new Jim Crow of incarceration in this century, the pipeline from school to prison where the vast majority of prisoners are black although they are only a small proportion of the populace as a whole. It represented the toll of drugs introduced into black communities and the gang and turf warfare that has followed. There has been so much bloodshed, both literal and figurative, perpetrated against our black brothers and sisters. A candle lit for every drop of blood spilled by racism would light the world for thousands of years.

Red candle wax, like blood, flowed down the sides of those candles.

White candle wax, like tears, flowed down the sides of the other–white like the color of my skin, white like the color of privilege. I do not know what it’s like to have women hold their purses tighter when I walk by them. I don’t know what it’s like to be stopped by the police because of the color of my skin or the neighborhood in which I walk. I don’t know what it’s like to be passed over for jobs or promotions because I don’t quite look the part. But I know I stand with those who do know what it’s like. I know that my battle as a queer man is the same battle as the black man or Latino or Hmong. We are all one under the sun. Our struggle is one and to overcome the oppression of one group we must overcome the oppression of all. We must light candles of hope for all of us.

Regardless of the candle’s color, be it red, black, brown, yellow, white, know that they all shed light. One can light the next and each can illuminate the darkness. There are so many dark corners in our country, so many places where evil hides around the corners, but dozens of people holding light in my city and thousands in cities all over the country can shed light. I will carry that light in my heart and in my soul. I will shine it on those who use words that hurt or demean. I will shine it on behaviors that reflect hearts full of prejudice. I will shine it upon myself, so that I stay alert to my own prejudices and my own shortcomings. I will let it shine. Let it shine.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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1 Response to Candlelight

  1. marcea0k says:

    Callen, this post needs a wider audience! You forever amaze me by your ability to say so much in so few words.

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