One in Five

The Rand Corporation, in a report issued in 2010, found that one in five veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from either post-traumatic stress or depression.

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Stories

Read Founder Jeff Key's own story of how creativity healed him.

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Share your story of how creativity has helped you heal.

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Founder: Jeff Key

Work

Mehadi Foundation founder Jeff KeyJeff Key is a writer, actor, philanthropist, peace activist, veterans’ advocate, and queer civil rights activist, as well as a former Marine and Iraq war veteran.

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After returning from Iraq, Jeff dedicated himself to serving the needs of American veterans, using the very tools that saved him during his own difficult assimilation into civilian life: creativity. While writing The Eyes of Babylon, a one-man play based on journal entries he wrote while deployed in Iraq, Jeff also created The Mehadi Foundation. This foundation is a non-profit organization designed to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, especially those battling PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), through writing workshops and other creative exercises that promote self-expression, community, and personal action. The foundation, named for a young Iraqi boy Key met in Iraq, also promotes philanthropic projects aimed at helping civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan rebuild in the wake of these wars.

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Critics from the L.A. Times declared The Eyes of Babylon a "critics' choice" and "a poetic depiction worthy of Ginsberg." Jeff won the Los Angeles' Ticketholder Award for Best Solo Performance (2004) and was an Ovation Award nominee (2004). Since the play's debut in Los Angeles, Jeff has performed The Eyes of Babylon nationally and internationally. When award-winning producer Eda Godel Hallinan saw the play performed in Los Angeles, she decided it deserved greater exposure and arranged to produce it as a Showtime documentary. Vince DiPersio directed Semper Fi: One Marine's Journey and it aired on the network for the first time in 2007.

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Semper Fi: One Marine's Journey follows Jeff to Alabama where he performs The Eyes of Babylon for a hometown audience, including his family. The film explores Key’s southern upbringing, his decision to join the Marine Corps, life as a gay man in the military, and the way his experience of war has continued to shape his identity and goals. The film received the Audience Award for Best Documentary at San Francisco's International Film Festival, and continues to have a successful run on Showtime.

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Jeff performs The Eyes of Babylon against a backdrop of video and photos he took while he was in Iraq. The play is his way of speaking out about a war that he has come to believe is immoral and illegal, and to explore with both anger and humor what it was like to serve as a gay man under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” The play also echoes a sentiment repeated countless times by war vets and in works such as Hell and Back Again, a documentary about an Afghanistan veteran, and Black Watch a play by Gregory Burke for the National Theatre of Scotland: that on the battlefield a service member is fighting less for their country than for the brother, or sister, fighting at their side.

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Jeff's goal for The Eyes of Babylon is to spur audiences toward self-examination and expression, and to remind them that our perceived failures are often our greatest assets, and that our individual and collective wounds are stories, that if shared, can have the power to reassert community, peace, and action, and prevent us from being at war with ourselves when the battle is no longer on foreign soil.

Background

Mehadi Founder Jeff KeyJeff was born in 1965 in Walker County, Alabama, to deeply religious parents, and attended public school in the first generation of desegregated classes. Profoundly affected by the racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia surrounding him every day, Jeff also struggled to affirm the ideals of traditional masculinity presented to him.

Surrounded by poverty as a child, Jeff was determined to avoid it as an adult. He majored in pre-med at the University of Alabama, intending to be a surgeon. Meanwhile, he struggled with addiction—primarily alcohol —and tried to reconcile his queerness and creative impulses with his desires for social acceptance and financial stability. His addiction escalated and eventually he was kicked out of college. At age 23, he attempted suicide. This dark hour was the beginning of a new path for Jeff. He sought help for his addictions and began to address issues of rage and grief from the sexual oppression of his childhood and youth. He re-enrolled at the University of Alabama, this time as a theater student, and received his Bachelor's degree in 1997.

After graduating, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. He landed some commercial work, yet money was always an issue, and he felt the need for something more fulfilling. In 2000, at the age of thirty-four, he walked into the Marine recruitment office. Jeff believed he would be able to keep his homosexuality a secret in accord with the military’s “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy. Since he was long past the age limit for enlistment, a special waiver was issued to allow him to join. After the terrorist attacks of 2001, his unit prepared for activation, and in March 2003, deployed to Eastern Iraq.

Two months later, Key was flown back to the United States for surgery. Because of his concerns about what he had seen, and his belief that the war's motives and tactics were ineffective in thwarting terrorism, he decided to leave the military. And although he had been honest about his sexuality with those close to him in the Corps, complying with a policy he believed to be implicitly un-American also factored into his final decision to leave the Marines.

On March 31, 2004, he went on CNN as Paula Zahn's guest to talk about how the killing of several Blackwater contractors that day would affect troop morale. For the first time, he spoke publically about his opposition to the occupation of Iraq. He also used the interview to come out of the closet, thereby using the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to exit the military. During this interview, he announced that he was creating The Mehadi Foundation.

During 2005, Jeff was Cindy Sheehan’s bodyguard during her vigil outside Bush's ranch in Texas and on her subsequent “Bring Them Home Now” speaking tour. Key has taken a public, non-partisan role on behalf of veterans as a speaker and volunteer, and continues to be an advocate for non-violent conflict resolution, but does not identify himself as a pacifist.

Jeff married Adam Nelson on August 4, 2007, and they live in Salt Lake City, Utah, where Adam is a third year medical student. They share their home with their two Labradors, Sydney and Willie, and attack cat, Dennis.

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The Mehadi Foundation takes no political stance and does not wish to engage in any controversy. Our singular focus is to keep attention on the human face of war, and do what we can to help.

The Mehadi Foundation is an IRS-designated 501(c)(3) charity and was founded by Lance Corporal Jeff Key, USMC, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. All donations are 100% tax deductible.

 

© 2011 The Mehadi Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

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