Sunday, March 13, 2011

EYE CANDID: Darrell Foster for 1st Ward Columbia City Council

He ran against Mayor McDavid, sparred with Don Stamper, campaigned for racial equality,
and did time for several felonies.  Now 60, Darrell Foster keeps a dream alive.    
COLUMBIA, 3/13/11  (Beat Byte) --  First Ward Columbia City Council candidate Darrell Foster makes his first digital appearance in a 1994 Columbia Tribune article that begins with a familiar refrain:  "The Columbia City Council chose roominess over savings last night when it approved the design for a parking garage planned for Tenth and Cherry streets."
That night, Council members also "heard a request from Darrell Foster, founder of Concerned Men of Columbia, that the council create an at-large seat reserved for a black member.  'We are not talking about an African-American agenda, but inclusion onto the current agenda,' Foster said.  'We have a deficit of African-American decision-makers.'"
Foster spoke up about the dearth of black representation the following year, after Rev. David Ballenger lost a school board seat he would later regain and hold for years. 
"Foster said Ballenger's defeat means there's 'no one there to represent our interests....No one is there to suggest, to advocate for our cause. That's terrible.'"  He urged black residents in Columbia to unify.  "Foster said the absence of black elected officials in Columbia 'hints toward polarization, it hints toward the need for us to work together.  It shows we're not working together in this city.'" 
Two months later, while Foster and his family visited relatives in Indiana, they lost their home to arson.   Foster suspected racial motivations.  After the fire, his wife, four children, and grandchild stayed with relatives.  "Investigators for the sheriff's department and Boone County Fire District ruled the May 27 blaze at 4810 Baxter Court a burglary and arson," the Trib reported. 
"Since the black family moved into the peaceful and predominantly white neighborhood 13 months ago, the Fosters say, they have received anonymous threats.   'We would get phone calls, using the N-word. 'You got to get out of town.  Leave the neighborhood, ni---r, said Nyamekye Foster, 16, one of the Fosters' three sons.  At times, Darrell Foster said, the caller threatened to burn the family out.   'I just took them as pranks,' he said. He did not report the calls to police." 
Trib reporters photographed Foster "standing near the sooty wall of his Columbia area home, and expressing anxiety about moving back in.  'I'm not scared, but I have a family,' he said."

Foster kept on keeping on.  
That August, he became a graduate of the Chamber of Commerce Leadership Columbia Class of 1995. 
Christmas 1995 -- the year fire destroyed his home -- Foster was keeping a different flame burning when he bought a framed poem at a Kwanzaa craft fair from Wynna Faye Elbert, a notable figure in First Ward affairs who framed her work in hopes her daughter would "get pride from being a part of it." 
Foster liked the poem both for what it said and what it did.   "When we start talking about economic empowerment, the first thing we need to do is buy from black-owned businesses," he told the Trib.  "I talk the talk, and I walk the walk." 
Foster kept walking the walk when Pete Hern, president of the Frederick Douglass Coalition, was battling cancer.  He joined Friends of Douglass Park -- a joint effort between the Douglass Coalition and the North Central Neighborhood Association --  to plant a tree in Hern's honor.  
"Darrell Foster...was working up a sweat in the unseasonably warm weather," the Trib reported.  "To him, the day was about bettering race relations.  'Anytime you get two different community organizations working together, black and white, it can be nothing but good,' Foster said." 
To a befuddled and flustered Don Stamper, then Boone County's Presiding Commissioner, Darrell Foster took the idea of hiring more minorities in 1996. 
"We're coming from the standpoint of middle- to upper-management, and African-American representation, and there is none," he said.  Stamper "went on the defensive," the Trib reported, "telling Foster that a black man has been appointed to the county Planning and Zoning Commission and that the county's Public Works Department recently hired a black engineer, Stephen Brefo, a native of Ghana."

Foster kept at it, however.  "It seems to me you have to be reminded that we are in this community," he told Stamper and fellow Commissioners, referring to black residents. 
It would be a prelude to Foster's big move toward a seat at the County decision-making table, when in 1997 he ran against Bob McDavid, M.D. -- now Columbia's Mayor -- for a seat on the Boone County Hospital Center Board of Trustees.
"Two newcomers met today's filing deadline for the trustee's race:  Darrell Foster, a community activist who has been an advocate for minority issues; and Robert McDavid, a local gynecologist and obstetrician," the Trib reported.

Unfortunately, a month later Darrell Foster
would find himself behind bars, "after police said he allegedly threatened his wife and two of his sons with a handgun." 
The charges didn't arrest his campaign.  Foster appeared at candidate forums alongside McDavid, and became embroiled in early public discussions about the hospital's lease with BJC, an issue resolved years later in County government's favor. 
Foster's Trib profile appeared on top of McDavid's profile, and though Old Stickory eventually endorsed everyone but Foster, he stuck with the race, ultimately losing with 11.4 percent of the votes cast.

Meanwhile, the criminal case against Foster wrapped,
with a jury convicting him of four felonies:  unlawful use of a weapon, endangering the welfare of a child, and two counts of felonious assault.   Jurors saw a videotape of Foster "threatening the lives of his two oldest sons in the dining room of the family's home."

Foster had a 1969 conviction for robbery in Lake County, Ind., and Boone County Judge Frank Conley
sentenced him to 12 years -- 4 terms run concurrently, which reduced actual time served to just three years.   A few years later Foster's wife Joy passed away, and a couple of years after that he found his voice again, diving back into Columbia politics.
"Rashida Bantu-Foster, a 16-year-old Hickman High School an honor roll student.  Rashida credited her dad, Darrell Foster, for her academic success.  Without him pushing her, Rashida admitted, she probably wouldn’t perform as well." 

That was Foster's family life, as reflected in a
2006 Trib article, nearly a decade after the felony convictions that would haunt him as he assumed a leadership position on a citizen committee to find a successor for Columbia police chief Randy Boehm.

Recommended by then Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala,
Foster left the advisory committee after Columbia city manager Bill Watkins dismissed him over the old charges and some new ones:  disturbing the peace and third-degree domestic assault, for which he was sentenced to local jail time.  Casenet also suggests that he's currently on probation for a pot bust. 
Now 60, Darrell Foster comes across as a caring person with an Earthy wisdom and a passionate, quixotic outlook that's gotten the better of him more than once, but also undoubtedly provided its share of life lessons.  Foster himself suggested as much in one of the many local news stories that have chronicled his colorful life. 
"The real deal is that God is in charge," he said.  "You can't always run and start crying to someone.  You put your faith in God, and keep on moving." 

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