Last week, my nine-year-old son asked, “What does it mean when someone gets the keys to the city?”
For whatever reason, a scene from The Wizard of Oz popped to mind -- the one in which the Mayor of Munchkinland presents Dorothy with a key to the city after dropping a house on the Wicked Witch of the West.
Unfortunately, my memory was incorrect, because Dorothy never got the key (trust me, in the name of journalistic integrity, I watched this video three times). Despite numerous missed opportunities on the part of Munchkinland officials, they came up short (ha!), offering Dorothy
1) a regal welcome
2) a massive lollipop (which, conveniently, disappears)
3) the promise of a bust in the hall of fame made in her honor and
4) a used pair of shoes.
According to Wikipedia, the term “Key To The City” refers to an honor bestowed by a city upon esteemed visitors, residents, or other attribute that a city may want to honor, and New York City’s government website maintains that a key to the city honors outstanding civic contributions of the recipients.
This Boston-area bus driver received the key to the city for reuniting a lost 2-year-old with her family. The four remaining brothers in The Jackson Five received their childhood city’s key for what Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson of Gary, IN, described as “accomplishments [which] shed a positive light on this city." The Chicago Symphony Orchestra even held an event last summer called The Keys To The City Piano Festival (get it?).
In my town, on January 28, 2010, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl presented Rotary International President John Kenny with the first key to the city during her time in office. She’s also presented one to Nobel Prize winner Dale T. Mortenson (November, 2010). Another Rotary Club International President, Kalyan Banerjee, received one at the 50th Anniversary of the Rotary Club of Evanston International Friendship Garden (June, 2012).
Keegan’s a put-it-all-out-there kind of a guy, unafraid to tackle issues many of us hesitate to address -- particularly concerning race relations…yet he does it all with humor. Keegan made a name for himself on MAD TV, and now, on Key & Peele, he and co-star Jordan Peele often expose the frequently unspoken challenges facing ethnocentrism. The show sometimes (well, often) tips the scales toward vulgarity, but their efforts are aimed at unity. How do I know? I’ve met Keegan three times when he’s visited his Evanston friend, Becca Noyes. Keegan’s easily one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. He remembers names. Gives EVERYONE a hug. Asks about others. Demonstrates humility. Makes people laugh. And speaks honestly about the ups and downs of being biracial in America. Keegan’s someone who identifies with both sides of an often-divided country and, as in my case, city.
Does the show offend you? If so, bear in mind how afraid we've become to address racial issues incorrectly. Is someone Caucasian or white? African-American, Afro-American, Black, Of Color? Is someone multi-racial or bi-racial or both? And why do so many stereotypes still exist? How can we get rid of them?
If he’d ever consider bringing his talents to Evanston, I know Keegan-Michael Key would find a city aching for levity, unity and insight. I’d want to ask him questions like, “How do you keep that sense of humor?” “How do you handle bigotry?” “From where does your sense of self-confidence come, and how can more young men achieve it?” “Do you realize how many conversations your show is starting?”
My key to the city goes to...Mr. Key.
Who do YOU think deserves the key to your city…and why?