Commentary: Springfield women honored for community commitment

Betty Brown, left, and Denise Williams in downtown Springfield. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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Betty Brown, left, and Denise Williams in downtown Springfield. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Bette Brown made it her business to take people to places they had never been, then took others on walks to deepen their faith.

But it was an unexpected U-turn that led Denise Williams to conclude that her most devastating experience had prepared her for a new purpose in life.

Both were recognized June 13 at the annual gala of the Springfield Foundation’s African American Community Family of Funds at Clark State Community College’s Hollenbeck Creative Conference Center.

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Brown, who started a 30-year career at the city of Springfield in part because her father had been the city attorney, felt at home enough there to organize outings for her fellow employees.

A trip for shopping and lunch in one rented van gave way to a second with two, and soon Brown was organizing a trip to Lancaster, Pa.

“I was green and didn’t really know what I was doing,” she said. But after sharing a trip to New York with an aunt, the aunt suggested Brown could have done a better job, and soon “my brother-in-law came up with the name ‘Everything’s better with Bette,” she said.

Eventually, her regular clientele trusted her enough to put up money for trips to destinations unknown - trips like one to Windsor, Ont., to see a drum and bugle tattoo.”

“I want my travelers to see something they’ve never seen before,” she said.

The same words express the pleasure she has taken since 2001, when she was “taken aback” when she went on an Emmaus Walk.

“I had no idea what it was, none,” she said, “and I had read the Book of Luke.”

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Before the weekend away, “I thought I knew Jesus, thought I knew the Lord,” she said, “but not until I attended the walk were my eyes opened more. It was amazing.”

Eighteen years after the experience, “we’ll reminisce at our meetings about what we felt and we got out of it and how excited we were.” The group also has done community work that has not only served but kept them in touch with community need.

“There’s just so many children out there who need adult guidance and their parents are young (and) they don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know how to fix it, but something needs to be done to help these little children and their parents.”

Although slowed by the onset of kidney disease, for which she does home dialysis, she remains an active member of the community.

Many know her sister honoree, Williams, as the always shining face of the Springfield Unit 3201 of the NAACAP. But Williams had prepared herself for a different future half a dozen years ago when she walked into Pastor Ernest Brown’s office in St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church.

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Then recently retired from the security department at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Williams entered the office to get Brown’s blessing for a plan to open her own mediation business as the next step in her life.

It was something her job had prepared her for.

She said Brown’s response was that the Springfield NAACAP chapter did not have a president and that she would make a fine one. Her account is that when she went through her proposal again, Brown gave the same response.

Six years later, she says “this is absolutely my calling.”

Saying her pastor is constantly asking members of the church to find their purpose, Williams said, “I didn’t know what that was until I was voted in president of the NAACP.”

A volunteer position - as are all the positions in the Springfield NAACP - she says her payment comes “when I get a call from someone we have helped” or “when I go to the mailbox and there is a card from one of the schools” she spoke at.

The job also calls on her skills as a mediator, both in resolving disputes over discriminatory behavior and building a community structure for helping to avoid such disputes.

She said one of the lowest points in her own life came when she was discriminated against in her job at Wright-Patt, went on medical leave, fell deep into depression and nearly lost her home, car and the funds needed to pay for her son’s daycare.

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What she describes as “a voice in the night” led her to make a desperate call to the late Sen. John Glenn and the Clinton White House. That led to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission officer looking into her case and the eventual restoration of her position in a process that took four years.

“I’m through that all now,” she said. And “now that I’m on the other side, I realize that God was preparing me for this position.”

She said she has formed solid working relationships with local law enforcement agencies and the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office, who call her if there are incidents involving minorities and police. She is looking to duplicate those relationships with area churches and businesses to help build the NAACP’s problem-solving network, provide training and garner financial support.

“I have concern for the whole community,” she said. I want us to have one community. I want us to help get those unemployed employed, help with our LGBTQ” and the immigrant populations as well.

“I love them to feel included, not discluded.”

The night the women received their honors, the AAFCF also awarded $2,000 grants to Inside Out and My Brother’s Keeper.

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