Hello readers! My name is Eric Smith and the title of my essay is, “Why Oliver Is So Great by Eric Smith”. My name is Eric Smith and I think that the Oliver community is great because…OK, enough of the 2nd grade writing skills. For the fourth time in this essay, my name is Eric Smith. So now that I am more than confident that you will not easily forget my name, I am a veteran, a volunteer, and a lifelong citizen of Baltimore City. While I often travel far away from it, Baltimore City is never far from me. You may consider that a heartwarming statement (or woe-inducing, depending on what you think of the television show The Wire), but whatever your opinion, the fact is, Baltimore City is my home.
One of the most abrupt changes that I had to deal with when I separated from the service was the lack of a mission. When you don’t stay busy, you get bored. When you get bored, you start doing crazy stuff. And when you’ve learned how to have fun barracks-style…well, you get the picture. Anyway, participating in the Operation Oliver initiative through The 6th Branch has given me a new mission and a renewed sense of purpose.
Years ago, while stationed thousands of miles away from here, there were times I was determined to never come back here. I thought, “To hell with it. Baltimore is a dying city.” I figured I had nothing to gain from moving back to it. Now, four years after separating from the military and volunteering with The 6th Branch in Operation Oliver, I don’t see myself leaving Baltimore anytime soon. Baltimore is seeing new life.
Oliver was, and for some, still is, the community that my father’s side of the family calls home. I have young cousins that currently attend, and some who soon will attend Dr. Bernard Harris Elementary School (locally known as “Two-Fifty”), which is right in the heart of Oliver. I am intimately familiar with the many challenges facing this community. Challenges like open air drug markets and lack of access….to everything: healthcare, healthy food, opportunity – you name it. However, I have seen the beginnings of quite a remarkable transformation in areas of Oliver. This is thanks to the efforts of those stalwarts of Op. Oliver, who make it a point to make it to every event, as well as the countless volunteers who have made our mission their own. Coming from me, *cough-Eric Smith-cough*, that is saying a lot. If you ask anybody that I work with, they would say I’m about as cynical as they come. But, I just call it like I see it. I am proud to say that I have seen some things happen in this community that I would have told you could never be done. I would have said that just TWO years ago.
It has been a pleasure to be a part of a movement that has done so much, in so little time. More than that, it has been a pleasure to watch 6th Branch co-founder and good friend, Rich Blake, fall in love with a city that I have at times fallen out of love with. It just goes to show you that there is still a lot of life and love left in this city. Sometimes, you just need to dig said life and love, from under the many ubiquitous piles of clutter and trash that litter it.
Damn, I should become a marriage counselor or something.
Eric “Doc Smitty” Smith