As Michael Brown is Laid to Rest . . .

Hands Up! Don't Shoot! At a Michael Brown vigil in Madison, Wisconsin.  Photo by Callen Harty.

Hands Up! Don’t Shoot! At a Michael Brown vigil in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Callen Harty.

As Michael Brown is laid to rest the unrest stops for a moment. It appears that people are honoring his father’s plea for a day of silence and peace.

As Michael Brown is laid to rest my mind does not. It cannot. I fear that with his burial his story will soon be buried and as a nation we will move on to the next big story. This is what we do. We have a national attention deficit disorder and always move on to the next big story, the next big fad, before we have finished dealing with the issue in front of us. Think of how Trayvon Martin’s death raised our consciousness and dominated the news cycles, but as far as one can tell nothing much has changed since then. We were going to revisit castle doctrines and “make my day” laws, we were going to do our best to institute some kind of sane gun control laws, we were going to look deeply at the racism in our country. Instead we moved on to the next story, whatever that was. We excitedly awaited the winner of American Idol. We forgot our promises. We are a well-meaning people, but our follow-through needs some work.

As Michael Brown is laid to rest I ponder how his death has once again pricked our collective conscience and raised again our collective consciousness, but I wonder more than that what will change. Something has to change. We cannot bear more young men dying in vain. But will it? What might there be this time to distract us from the work that needs to be done?

As Michael Brown is laid to rest I weep, not just for his young life, but for the life of my country. We are as broken as his body and we need to fix our brokenness. We simply cannot move on once again. We cannot care more about the petty lives of reality T. V. stars than we care about real-life flesh and blood neighbors and fellow citizens. We must fix what is wrong. We must at least start to do that if we ever hope to finish it. We must engage in real conversation about race, about violence, about poverty and homelessness, and that talk must lead to action and that action must lead to change. Michael Brown’s death and the subsequent outpouring of grief and anger on the streets of Ferguson must have meaning. It cannot become a passing headline that is remembered on New Year’s Eve as one of the top stories of 2014. Instead, it needs to be the story in our history books a hundred years from now, the one that changed our national narrative. It needs to be remembered as the moment when we as a united people said no more to inequality and did something about it. If it does not I fear it will be the moment remembered as the time when our nation finally gave up and accepted its own inevitable decline and fall.

As Michael Brown is laid to rest I pray for his soul and the soul of my nation. I pray that something good can come of his death, that he may rest in peace and that this country, too, may find a way to live in peace from this day forward.

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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