When it started

Hands Up

Hands Up/Don’t Shoot. Photo by Callen Harty.

It didn’t start with George Floyd

struggling to breathe under the knee

of a man in blue.

It didn’t start with Breonna Taylor

waking up from dreams and

walking into a nightmare.

It didn’t start with Atatiana Jefferson,

Botham Jean, Philando Castille


dozens of other names

we know too well only because

they were martyred.

It wasn’t Eric Garner, Tamir Rice,

Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson,

or even Trayvon Martin.

It didn’t start with the assassinations of Martin

or Malcolm or the countless nameless


whose stories we never knew.

It didn’t start with little girls in a Baptist church.

It didn’t start with Emmett Till.

It didn’t start with the beatings and murders

in the Southern heat of the 1950s and 60s.

It didn’t start with the Ku Klux Klan.

It didn’t start with the Tulsa or Colfax Massacres,

or the East St. Louis Race War.

It didn’t start with Reconstruction

lynchings that never ended.

It has been never-ending.

It started when the first black man

was taken from his home and put on a ship,

headed toward an unpromised land.

It started with a whip on the back of the first black man

who stood up for his humanity,

on the body of the first black woman

giving birth to a white man’s child

in a strange land.

It started hundreds of years ago, before the beginning of this

country founded upon the ideal that

all men are created equal.

It will end when those words are finally true,

when people in the streets demand

equality for all and do not stand


because Black Lives Matter.

They have always mattered.

They have always mattered,

even when good people looked away,

even when God would not intervene.

They have always mattered,

but they have been beaten


and kept


by those in power

who will go


one day soon. One day sooner.

One day we will reach the promised land.

One day.


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 Amazon.com (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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