Betty Hunter: Rain or Shine in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park

A Christian minister finds peace in Falun Gong

There were not many people in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park that cold morning in March, 2000, but one group had carved out a small space in the snow-covered ground to practice their daily qigong exercises. That was the morning Betty Hunter first learned Falun Gong.

Along with raising three children in Brooklyn, Hunter was, at the time, a minister at a local Christian church. She had belonged to the church for many years, yet eventually felt that many of her questions in life remained unanswered.

“After about 15 or 16 years, I had come to an understanding that it was not answering the questions I’d had most of my life,” says Hunter. “‘Who is God?’ ‘Who am I?’ ‘What am I here for?’ ‘What is this so-called heaven that everyone talks about and where is it?’ So I started to search outside the religion that I was involved in.”

Hunter first learned about Falun Gong when two friends handed her a flyer. Since the first day of learning the exercises in Prospect Park, she returned “every single day—no matter rain, shine, sleet, or snow.” But to her it was about more than simply qigong. Upon reading Falun Gong books and practicing Falun Gong’s self-cultivation principles, she began to resolve the big questions that had been swimming through her head for more than 60 years. As an African American, Hunter often fields questions from her peers about why she practices a Chinese qigong system—something rarely seen in communities like hers.

“Being a woman of color, I get asked many questions, like ‘Why are you practicing this? How to you relate to it?'” says Hunter. “That is an opportunity to let them know that Falun Gong has no color. It goes across the spectrum of all people, of all races … because, based on my understanding, it was introduced to help people cultivate back to their true selves. It allows you to come to a point in life where you really know who you are. And that has no color whatsoever.”

Hunter was born and raised in Selma, Alabama, the same town where Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders led the famous Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. Her father was well-read and frequently discussed world issues around the dinner table. He especially liked to read about, and share with his twelve children, stories of the underdog triumphing in the face of injustice.

That is why when Betty Hunter learned of the Chinese regime’s suppression of Falun Gong, she immediately understood its unjustness and its gravity. And she felt a responsibly to stop it as quickly as possible. Of special concern to her is the treatment of women in China, especially the labor camps to which Falun Gong practitioners are sent. “Should [a woman] be arrested or put in a forced labor camp, she has a tendency to be abused … even more than men. All her dignity is taken from her,” Hunter says, based on her extensive research and almost daily readings of human rights reports that come out of China.

“For example, the raping over and over again, and the instruments they use to sodomize women are unheard of. Even in Africa, you don’t hear of some of the things that women have to go through in China.”

Soon, Hunter joined what she calls the “VIP team”: a small, informal group of Falun Gong practitioners joined together to communicate with U.S. politicians and other leaders about the persecution in China. With no experience, no resources other than phones and personal computers, and an annual budget of approximately $0, Hunter and others began contacting local, state, and national politicians, talking with them about Falun Gong and asking them to do what they can to help. The VIP team, and its counterparts across the country, have had many successes.

Numerous state and U.S. congresspersons have issued proclamations supporting Falun Gong or condemning the persecution. And on October 4, 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 304, an unprecedented Congressional Resolution which formally called for an end to the persecution of Falun Gong in China, as well as recognized acts of harassment of Falun Gong practitioners in the United States by various Chinese consulates.

Yet despite significant milestones, there is a long road ahead. The Chinese regime continues to send propaganda materials to American politicians and lobby them to play down the Falun Gong issue. Some U.S. politicians who have ties to China decline to confront it at all. And the Speaker of New York State Assembly refuses to let any proclamation condemning the Chinese regime’s persecution of Falun Gong come to a vote because he feels pressure from a small number of his constituents in New York City’s Chinatown, says Hunter.

Hunter’s late husband was a New York State Assemblyman, and she says that seeing what went on behind the scenes made her distrustful of politicians and disillusioned with the political system. Through practicing Falun Gong, however, she says she has learned to take on a more compassionate attitude.

When you sit down and tell your story to elected officials, you can see that they’re moved by what is taking place [in China],” Hunter says based on years of personal experience.

“There are many of them that really want to help, but because of the way the political system runs here in America, some of them feel they can’t help because of the situation they’re in.”

Always a cheerful and optimistic person, Hunter says she will continue to fight the good fight, no matter the obstacles: “I believe that as we continue to talk with elected officials about the situation that’s taking place in China, things are going to get much better. You will see elected officials taking a side, and I believe that side will be on the side of the truth.”