They say if you want something done right, then do it yourself. Some go a step further and say that if you want it done exceptionally well and on schedule, then call a veteran. But Diva Ø says that if you want it done exceptionally well, on schedule, with a lasting impact on the Baltimore community, you best call The 6th Branch.
As stated on their website, The 6th Branch is “creating a national model of a Veteran Sponsored Community (VSC), utilizing the military experience and veteran skill set to address needs here at home”. When I first heard about them, I had to check them out – Diva Ø loves a man in uniform! Operation Oliver is a one-year commitment to the Oliver neighborhood of Baltimore City, an area known for vacant homes, poverty, and crime. The mission of Operation Oliver is to revitalize this area through strategic community partnerships. This includes garbage removal, landscaping, beautification, community art (reflection gardens and murals), tree planting, greenspace creation and a crime watch. I love a man who can commit…I had to see these guys for myself!
On Saturday, December 10, I worked with members of The 6th Branch and volunteers from Civic Works, BUILD, UMBC and Stevenson University as a part of Operation Oliver. Yes, Diva Ø got down and dirty – are you surprised?! Not many things are worth getting my pink Timbs dirty for, but this definitely was. We cleaned and cleared vacant lots, weeded and mulched community gardens and I’m telling you, I felt like I was hanging around with the A-Team! These young veterans were coordinating at least 40 volunteers at three different sites in a five-block radius and throwing around words like ‘contingent’ and ‘reassess’. Very cool. The project was so well run – it started on time (0900 hours, with coffee provided!) and, more importantly, ended on time (1300 hours – with a 15 and a 5 minute warning!) with all of the day’s tasks completed. There was even an after-party at Americana: hard work and then hard drinks – I love it when a plan comes together! Shots of fireball whiskey are my kind of initiation…
So what does all of this have to do with Black is the New Green (besides the fact that Diva Ø is an Army brat)? Well, green space creation is a natural connection between BNG and the work The 6th Branch is doing, but there is so much more to it than that. When I talk about environmental issues, you’ve got to know by now that I’m really talking about making intelligent, efficient choices about they way you live and caring about someone other than your own fool self. It won’t do any good to have cleaner air to breathe if you have to worry about getting robbed or shot outside while you enjoy it. When communities look like they either don’t care enough or they don’t have enough resources to maintain suitable homes and clean streets, this invites dirty elements like crime. This in turn drives property values down, drives residents out and the cycle continues in a downward spiral. Operation Oliver stops that cycle in its tracks.
The 6th Branch needs community support – all of our support. To make a difference, they need people like Ms. Best and her neighbor Diane – two long-time Oliver residents who have been working with community groups for years to take the area back from criminals and drug dealers. She turned 80 last week, and Ms. Best still makes it out to the projects to talk to volunteers, offer her wisdom and to just say thank you for caring.
They need people like Stan and Paul – two citizens from Baltimore’s surrounding counties who heard about The 6th Branch and Operation Oliver through the Baltimore Sun article that ran on December 8, 2011. They could very easily have deemed these issues “city problems” and gone on about their lives, but they didn’t. They both came to volunteer because they realize that true community is not dictated by zip codes.
They need organizations like Civic Works and BUILD who have the vision to join forces and execute projects with community leaders like the men of The 6th Branch.
They need college students like the volunteers from UMBC and Stevenson who believe in creating the kind of world they want to live in.
They need people like you.
And they need people like me – after all, someone has to bring the fabulous.
Catch my chic