No one has an opinion or wants to comment on race relations? Don't worry, I'm going to have more to say about it in the weeks and months to come.
Some of you know Jeff Key or know of him. Jeff is a former Marine and Iraq War veteran. He is also recognized for his play, The Eyes of Babylon, and is the subject of a documentary entitled Semper Fi which will air on the Showtime network in late June. Jeff was raised in nearby Walker County, so he is a local, now living in greener pastures. I say that because he has chosen to live in a place where he can be open about who he is, and respected and tolerated. Jeff is gay, and he now fights for equality, both in civilian life and in the military
He left the military, as portrayed in The Eyes of Babylon, because he could no longer accept being asked to take innocent life for corporate gain. The Eyes of Babylon reflects this part of his story, and played here last year, and many of us saw it. If you ever get the chance, see this one man play.
I spoke with Jeff last week about featuring his story and his activism on this blog. We had been in contact since the resolution for inclusion in Birmingham was defeated, and he made sure to point out that things were not like that in L.A., and that 2000 miles makes a world of difference. I first met Jeff at Equality Alabama’s Day of Equality last year following his portrayal in The Eyes of Babylon here in Birmingham. Since then I have been impressed with his openness and his desire to correct things both here and in Iraq.
Three years ago Jeff started a foundation called the Mehadi Foundation, named after a young boy he befriended while in Iraq. This non profit foundation was created to serve two purposes: one, to provide assistance to returning veterans who have emotional or psychological scars from the war, and two, to provide assistance to the Iraqi people who have been adversely affected by the war. Currently the Mehadi Foundation is focusing on organizing a peer group for veterans called Vets4Vets (website http://www.vets4vets.us/) which is a peer support group where veterans of this war can come together and talk about issues in a non-judgmental, non-political and non-partisan setting. Jeff has said "Psychological scars always heal more slowly than the bloodier variety” and this effort will surely help heal some wounds. The other part of their mission involves assisting in restoring clean water sources for Iraqi citizens whose infrastructure has been destroyed with the war and occupation by U. S. military. As a public health student I am well aware of the problems that lack of access to clean, safe water is for people across the world, and add to that the ravages of war and it is easy to see that this is a worthwhile endeavor. To find out more about the Mehadi Foundation or to make a donation visit http://mehadifoundation.org/. Donations are tax deductible.
I asked Jeff if he was still in contact with Mehadi and he said due to danger to the young man he was not.
The Showtime documentary uses excerpts from his play, interviews with his fellow marines and from friends and family in Alabama and LA to tell the story of his life growing up gay in Alabama as spiritual child who struggles because of some of his church's teachings and on into his life in the military and then in the peace movement. Semper Fi will have its world premiere at Birmingham Shout Gay and Lesbian Film Festival at Workplay on April 29 before being featured on Showtime. For more information visit http://www.bhamshout.com/. Please support Birmingham Shout and Jeff.
I wish that all returning servicemembers had the vision, the ability and the strength to do what Jeff is doing: providing a much needed service to those who served in the same capacity as him, and helping to rebuild the country that we have torn down. In addition, he is continually raising the awareness of the injustice of this war, as well as awareness of the injustice of the current don’t ask, don’t tell military policy that bans gays (who are open about who they are) from the military. To me this translates into the broader picture of the injustice in our country toward gays and lesbians anyway. Thank you Jeff for being such a leader, a true hero, and a veteran.