COLUMBIA — Darrell Foster is his own man.
Sitting on a couch in his house on King Street, wearing a T-shirt and sweatpants and watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Foster appears far removed from his usual suit and booming voice at candidate forums and public meetings.
The things he says, though, stay the same.
A candidate for the First Ward seat on Columbia's City Council, Foster, 60, has one principle from which all his other political beliefs originate: inclusion.
"It takes the black and white keys on the piano to play 'The Star-Spangled Banner,'" Foster often says.
Growing up in the 1960s in Gary, Ind., Foster saw firsthand the injustices of prejudice and discrimination against black people.
“There was a community revolution in progress,” he said. “We had marches, sit-ins, protests; we wanted freedom, justice, equality. We got water hoses, dogs and hate.”
Foster was never discouraged, though, because of something his mother told him when he was a kid.
“She told me Medgar Evers died for me,” Foster said. “She told me that man gave up his life for me, so I could be free.”
Evers, a field secretary for the NAACP who was assassinated in 1963, and others like him, served as inspiration for Foster.
As a young man, Foster prayed for opportunities to become a voice in his community.
“Please, Father, send me, I’ll go,” he would say.
He realized, though, that to effectively change his community, he first needed an education.
Foster earned a master’s degree in public administration from Indiana University and taught special education at an Indiana middle school before moving to Columbia in 1993.
Here, he joined the Frederick Douglass Coalition, founded the Concerned Men of Columbia in 1994, registered voters and held community round tables at St. Luke United Methodist Church on Ash Street.
Foster's growing community involvement triggered police responses, he said, and he was convicted in 1999 of four felony charges — one count of unlawful use of a weapon, one count of endangering the welfare of a child and two counts of felonious restraint, according to court records.
Foster said the charges against him were emblematic of intolerance in Columbia.
"That wasn't jurisprudence," Foster said. "It was injustice at the highest level."
Foster said the state's case against him involved unsigned depositions, a lack of witnesses, falsifications of evidence and the prosecutor lying to the police.
Foster served two years and three months of a three-year sentence. During Foster's incarceration, his wife, Joy, died of a stroke. Two of his sons were imprisoned after his release.
Still, Foster said he has been blessed with what he’s been given and believes God gives him the courage to speak out and advocate for his community.
That mindset is what compelled him to run for City Council.
“Our lives are shaped, developed and impacted by decisions that are made locally, statewide and federally,” he said. “And those decisions are made by elected officials. It is a must that we have representatives that will speak up regarding our concerns. I have a responsibility, with the talent that I have and the asset that I am, to serve my community.”
Foster believes he is the only candidate running for the First Ward seat who can successfully unite all groups of the community.
“I’m the best candidate for the job,” he said. “The citizens of the First Ward need a servant, they need a leader, and I actually fit that criteria. Let me show (them) somebody who’s their own man, who can and will work for you. The only person I know who is like that is Darrell Foster.”