Reigniting Hope in Oliver

BALTIMORE is a city on the brink.  It thrives and it is dying at the same time.

In the places where the city used to pulse… row houses now sit, boarded up and crumbling, left open only to junkies, graffiti artists and time.  They invite a sense of loss and fading memories of the good times.  They invoke a sense of inevitability and deterioration.

These symbols of Baltimore stand as monuments, dedicated to a grand failure.

This city has seen hard times.  Fires, flooding, economic depression and fleeing companies have left little work and an unbalanced, burdensome cost of living for many residents, who can barely afford to pay their rent.

Those without hope get lost in anything but reality and the stagnation of will is evident in the very streets outside their homes. There is no pride in these neighborhoods.  Drug dealers patrol the streets and trash piles up where people are afraid to go outside.  The city government pays attention with growing infrequency and the crumbling continues.

This picture is bleak.  The pilot light of Hope is tiny…

But still… THERE IS that light.  What it needs is fuel.  Oxygen.  Energy.

In these neighborhoods, they have burned up their Hope and the light is in need of Hope from the outside.  They need people to remind them of the potential they hold and the value they contribute to our city.

They need warriors who are not afraid to fuel a fire, people who have seen the worst of mankind, who have the perspective to know that this city isn’t lost, it’s just in need of Love. The city has been taken over by an enemy that can not be fought with guns or conventional weapons.

The enemy is Apathy.

This fight needs Veterans and compassionate, motivated souls. It needs us.

WE ARE The 6th Branch.

WE ARE “Operation: Oliver”

THIS, is our fight.

On October 1st, 2011, more than 150 civilian and veteran volunteers from Baltimore area colleges and universities, along with several civic and community action organizations, gathered at the corners of Hoffman and Bond in the neighborhood of Oliver in Baltimore City, and answered a call to action to fight the Apathy that has suffocated this once thriving neighborhood for so long.

Two green spaces had children, teenagers and adults pulling out vines, ripping out dead wood, pruning back trees, planting new trees, weeding and removing trash.  Two roll off dumpsters’ worth of trash were removed in four hours.

On top of that, a second mural from the Baltimore LOVE Project was painted (led by a Veteran Artist Program artist).

Why?  Why bother cleaning up these spaces?

Typically, projects like these are “hit and run”… A group will come in, clean-up/rehab a space and then… disappear.  Not us.  Not this time.

“Operation: Oliver” (#OpOliver) takes its cue from veteran leadership skills, and veterans know you don’t leave until the mission is complete.  We’re here for at least a year.  We are here to empower and remind the people of Oliver that this is their neighborhood and they can take pride in living there.

Several tactics are being used to make this happen:

1.) Row Houses.  One Green Home At A Time is taking over old row homes in partnership with the city.  They gut, rehab and renovate them – preserving the historical look while updating them with green and energy saving technology. The completed homes are then being offered to veterans and law enforcement officials at competitive pricing to encourage more occupancy by people who aren’t afraid to be a part of the community.

2.) Green and Common Spaces.  On our “walk around” August 30th to find our targets for the first #OpOliver project, we discovered two vacant, green lots AND what appears to have once been a picnic area.  It was overgrown. It was hidden away and abandoned.  By ripping out the overgrowth and clearing out poison ivy and dumped trash, we’re making this space available to residents while giving them something green and promising to look at.  We also hope to encourage more green space usage by neighborhood families, away from street traffic.

3.) Public Art and Murals.  Studies have shown that cities who encourage mural projects in economically depressed areas see a benefit through gradual reduction in crime and increased community involvement.  Since the first mural went up in Oliver in July, it has remained immaculate and the green space free of trash completely.  In fact, we stumbled on a local resident pulling trash from the grass there the day we did our walk around.

4.) Removal of Illegal Dumping Sites.  One of the biggest challenges will be the removal of years worth of dumped lives.  Mattresses, furniture, clothing, bikes… odds and ends of lives that moved along without them.  They’re reminders of loss and incomplete transitions.  Illegal dump sites also speak to pride and the level of investment each resident has. By removing these dump sites and cleaning up the streets, we’re giving Oliver a fresh look at a place they’ve come to accept “as is.”  We’re giving them safer, cleaner streets and something to take pride in.

5.) Community Patrols.  Crime – drug dealing in particular – is a problem in places like Oliver because residents stay inside.  They’re afraid to get caught in the crossfire, literally, between a few bad apples who resort to violence in an illegitimate economy.  We’re ready to set the example here.  We’re ready engage people on the stoops.  We’re ready to simply be seen.  Armed only with hope and words of encouragement, we’re going to be walking around and trying to get people to come out of their shells, to meet them, to get them to share their stories with us.  We’re also working with the City and John Hopkins to bring more patrols to the area.  Between the law enforcement and resident presence, we want to remove the deserted streets that have been a safe haven for drug dealers.

6.) Collaboration.  We can’t simply show up as a few member of The 6th Branch and expect to get all of this work done by ourselves.  We’re engaging universities, sponsors and existing civic organizations to join us for the long-term evolution of Oliver. The manpower, will power and good will is amplified with each organization that signs on.  It sends a powerful message to Oliver: “You are important. You are not forgotten.  Don’t give up.”

This isn’t a “Hit and Run” tactical strike.  This is a series of carefully thought-out strategies.  We know that change like this doesn’t happen overnight and that we must, to borrow a phrase, “stay the course.”

“Operation: Oliver” is a first in Baltimore.  It is a “Veteran-Sponsored Community.”  Our long-term goal is to set the example for veterans throughout the country, inspiring a generation of men and women ready to help our country get back on track… but for now, Oliver is our focus, our priority, and our passion.  We are not going anywhere until change takes hold and builds its own momentum. The people who live there are our future and if this city ever hopes to come back from the brink, it will need Oliver and communities like it to show the country what Charm City can really be.

THIS is “Operation: Oliver”…

Join us.

#BMore #DoMore

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