CULTURE SHOCK (AND HOPE)

March 13, 2012

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photographjy. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Spent some time a couple of Sundays ago working with a group of students on a service learning project with The 6th Branch.  The project is Operation Oliver-the name comes from the area of East Baltimore in which the group is working. Please read more about this endeavour here.

East Baltimore nighborhood

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Rusted drill bit lying in street

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Operation Oliver painted posts

Copyright 2012 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

The above photographs were made while walking around the Oliver Street neighborhood.  Doing so brought back memories of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans post Katrina (please see the photos below).  I had made two trips there bookending 2008, which was 3-4 years after the hurricane.  Several areas of the Lower 9 were still a wreck then.  However, and this is significant, thanks to the efforts of organizations like New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village and Make it Right NOLA, parts of the 9th Ward had been, and were being, rebuilt and folks were coming home.  Even more importantly, individual families were at work rebuilding absent the backing of these donor-driven organizations.  Time and again families repeated with conviction, “This is my home” in response to questions about why return to this area.  Home.

Rebuilt and rebuilding houses in the Lower 9th Ward NOLA

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Closeup of broken plate lying in street NOLA

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Restored house in the Muscian's Village

Copyright 2008 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

(As an aside, look closely at the last photograph in each series-it is interesting to note that the colour palettes used in parts of New Orleans and the Oliver Street neighborhood contain many of the same hues.  The Veteran Artist Project is responsible for the murals that have been painted as part of Operation Oliver. (More here about that partnership.)

There is still work to be done in New Orleans and so it is here in Baltimore.  The 6th Branch has a vision and a plan to bring back the Oliver Street neighborhood. It was gratifying to be part of that for even just an afternoon.

And it does take vision, along with the committment of time and energy to make such a large project become a reality.  Money is also key.  But more than that-it takes a genuine sense of altruism.  The desire to create a better world for others is one to be supported, be that in East Baltimore, the 9th Ward, or any other number of community-based projects.

A few hours after working with Operation Oliver, I settled in to watch the 84th Academy Awards ceremony.  Seeing the limousines, the red carpet, the actors all decked out, and listening to the hosts and commentators gushing about the glamour provided a sense of whiplash from where I had been earlier that day.  The Fiscal Times provided a breakdown of some of the costs for producing the Oscars last year-truly mind-boggling.  I kept thinking about what could be done with the money and energy used to stage such an event if it were directed toward assisting those in need. (Coincidentally, Brad Pitt was nominated for Best Actor this year and he is one of the founders of the Make It Right NOLA project, so he certainly spends time with both ends of economic spectrum.)

What people do with their money certainly reflects their value system.  The same can be said for what is done with time and energy and any other human resource.  Those behind Operation Oliver, New Orleans Habitat Musicians’ Village, Make It Right NOLA, and the volunteers who work with these organizations get the value of working for making a better life, a home, for others.  And with that comes hope.

Take good care.