Back when I was stationed in Maryland, my Navy department used to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. We would go into the Baltimore inner-city and work. I remember a cold winter day (it was about 40 degrees) turning to a Chief and saying: I tell you Chief, this is one sketchy neighborhood. He laughed and replied: Hell sir, this actually ain’t bad. For Baltimore.
Good news for the locals, veterans from our Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts are now rehabbing Baltimore’s inner-city:
Earl Johnson’s boots crunch broken glass from liquor bottles as he walks down an alley in East Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood.
He is just blocks from the site of the firebombing of a family who called the police on drug dealers and were killed for it, and just yards from some of the most memorable scenes of urban decay in television’s “The Wire.”
At his side are Rich Blake, 32, a Marine Corps veteran; and Jeremy Johnson, 34, a Navy veteran. Like Earl (no relation to Jeremy), they are on a different kind of mission.
They’ve come to this neighborhood once synonymous with the worst of Baltimore to help it become something better. They call this mission Operation Oliver.
As the men walk, they pick up empty Seagram’s gin and Bacardi rum bottles. They point to progress — refurbished homes, a painted playground — and to vacant houses and trash-filled alleys that still need work.
You would think the local board members and politicians would be welcoming them with open arms. The reviews are decidedly mixed:
The veterans’ effort hasn’t come without push-back. Their approach — hands on, no community meetings — has made established leaders bristle.
Nina Harper, executive director of the Oliver Community Assn., says she supports the veterans’ work but is critical of what she sees as a lack of communication.
If people see a bunch of veterans working in the neighborhood in their military-green Operation Oliver T-shirts, it could send a bad message to those looking to move in, she says.
“We don’t want it to appear to be a war zone, because it’s not,” she says.
Really? If I lived in that neighborhood, I would vote out the clowns in the community organization. The article does put a positive spin on the story in the end, but inner-city organizers have only perpetuated the downward spiral. And allowed it to become a war zone. As for me, if I were a local, I would happily welcome in the veterans. . .