Kevin Key, Skid Row Activist/Organizer R.I.P.

A onetime criminal defense attorney who lost his career to a crack addiction, Kevin Michael Key found both ruin and redemption on L.A.’s Skid Row, a neighborhood he came to embody as one of its loudest and most persistent activists.

Until his death July 19 from cancer, Key was involved with virtually every outreach, self-help or activist group that had its hands in skid row — even acting in a theater group that provided purpose and camaraderie to people who had lost both.

While he was once drawn to skid row to feed his worsening drug habit, Key discovered that through activism and being in the company of others trying to get back on their feet, a renewed sense of self-worth had blossomed.

In 2002, Key became sober and found new life in activism. He joined the United Coalition East Prevention Project, worked as a liaison for the diabetes program at the JWCH Community Clinic, marched with the prison reform group Critical Resistance and served two terms on the Downtown Neighborhood Council.

He prodded civic leaders to give skid row the same attention and amenities that other neighborhoods received. He preached the gospel of sobriety. He helped lead a campaign to rescind a liquor license at the New Genesis Hotel, a low-cost housing complex built with public money on the edge of skid row. The neighborhood, he said, already had more than enough alcohol.

Key also was introduced to the Los Angeles Poverty Department theater troupe, which shared the same acronym as the city’s police force — LAPD. As he watched the group perform, he realized that what he was witnessing was activism theater, performance art — often written by those who lived on skid row — that put a spotlight on the realities and challenges of life on the streets in downtown Los Angeles. Key also toured with the group in South America, Europe and the East Coast.

Key came to view skid row as a recovery community, a place where people could get sober, pick up the pieces and begin to enjoy life again. He was also an unrelenting advocate for the neighborhood, a place he viewed with hope, and it was a home.

Key also began a dialogue with the LACW to use wall space in our clinic to display art work by skid row artists.

Key is survived by a son, Kevin Jr.; two daughters, Kawana and Antoniette; a brother; and several grandchildren. He will be missed by all who knew him. Kevin Key – ¡PRESENTE!

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