Hail to volunteers Betty and Pris


Betty was married to a dentist. At 89, she died this week in Metro Chicago. A “sister” of hers who married a railroad man lives the sunset of her years in Kansas. What brought them together was a human development project on the Westside of Chicago in a predominantly black community.

OK. Let me get myself into the picture. In February 1967, a bunch of students that included me from the Philippines drove from Kentucky to Daley’s Windy City with a sociology mentor, professor to the police commissioner. We looked at the city’s attempts of church people serving the inner cities as others of the faithful retreated to suburban churches.

We laid our heads at night at a “soup and bread” storefront. Church folks of the Reformation’s quietist traditions sheltered and fed homeless people without much ado save a moment of prayer, a hymn sung, and a witness in Jesus’ name.

But in ‘67, MLK Jr. organized the ghetto community to assert their rights to services mandated by the War on Poverty. Saul Alinsky did the same in a feistier confrontational manner that got tenants standing up to their landlords with radical spunk. Alinsky’s geographical concentration would one day attract a young man as a community organizer named Barack Hussein Obama.

We visited the Fifth City project that lassoed the gifts of the cross-section of the inner city, the city proper, the suburb, and the exurb to form a “fifth” city. Well-meaning folks were in less fortunate communities to further church missions but retreated to their distant homes at night.

Fifth City, on the other hand, had Congolese cross-wearing “weird navy blue shirt” gringos, crazy utopian dreamers in my eyes at the time, facilitating the project and lived in the neighborhood’s dilapidated structures, delimited a geography, dealt with all the issues and all the people within simultaneously, identified and made the community conscious of the deep underlying contradiction they fought, and keyed on symbols for tactics. The Fifth City’s Iron Man statue still graces the community.

In the evening, we cruised in police cars to experience what the inner city was like. My team drove through uptown where immigrants from around the world congregated, driving the originals out to the suburbs, into the manicured lawns of Evanston and the lakeshore.

I remember an old theatre called Uptown, not too distant from where I spent considerable time later at the corner of Sheridan and Lawrence. A structure previously occupied by Kemper Insurance, donated to the Ecumenical Institute, it later housed the global staff of the Institute of Cultural Affairs that I joined in Manila in ‘72. A familiar Fifth City voice from my visit in ‘67 called after I returned to Pea Eye from studies. EI folks lived in a perennially flooded Manila slum and these utopian dreamers had me intrigued by their innocence.

Back in ‘67, Betty and Pris bathed in the Fifth City radical experiment on human expenditure. Not too long after, they become “volunteers” in a New Women’s Forum that met on a regular basis in the Westside.

When MLK Jr. was assassinated, Chicago lit bonfires while locals joined the Black Panthers. The Democratic Party’s convention that August in the city solidified a resolve that black folks were no longer going to be society’s doormat without their consent, even if they choose to be Gandhian nobodies.

Betty and Pris’ group continued to extend a helping hand to Fifth City but were stopped by the EI staff and were asked to let the “blue shirts” and the local community fend for themselves. Undeterred, Betty and Pris discovered that they carried their own gender contradictions on self-esteem and self-confidence in a predominantly patriarchal society. Their selfie birthed a Global Women’s Forum.

With professional husbands, Pris and Betty, and the group they were a part of called EI Guardians, fanned out around the globe, enabling a Fifth City dynamic in every time zone across the planet including Majuro and Mactan, Kelapa Dua and Kreuzberg, Caño Negro and Sungai Lui, Maliwada and Vogar, Ijede and Azpitia de Conacaste, Mowanjum and Sol de Septiembre.

I won’t bother giving Pris and Betty’s last names. The folks of their kind are legion, with names like Vinod and Kamela, Aimee and Frank, Kang and Park, Charles and Doris, Eunice and Sherwood, George and Wanda, Symond and Dharma, Addi and Elsa, Lynda and John, etc. They were like ordinary volunteers in today’s Saipan, Lynn and John, Tony and Janet, Vivian and Frank, Bobbi and Vince, etc., save for the monastic intensity of their corporate discipline. They nursed here-and-now requirements. They held the future in their hands, or at least, in their minds.

Rest easy Betty. Si Yu’us Maasi.

Jaime R. Vergara | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Jaime Vergara previously taught at SVES in the CNMI. A peripatetic pedagogue, he last taught in China but makes Honolulu, Shenyang, and Saipan home. He can be reached at pinoypanda2031@aol.com.

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