Remembering Reverend Foster
The Bermudian widow of an American civil rights activist and former pastor on the island has thrown her support behind a books for prison inmates campaign.
Helen Foster said education and self-transformation had been “everything” for her husband, the Reverend T. Wendell Foster, who was also a New York City councilman
Ms Foster said: “My husband would not have been what he is if not for his love of reading.”
She added she would donate to the campaign launched last week to provide books to the inmates of Westgate prison.
Ms Foster’s home in New York overlooks a Bronx park renamed last year in honour of Mr Foster, who died in 2019.
The couple married in 1956, while Mr Foster was the pastor of Vernon Temple African Methodist Episcopalian Church in Southampton.
Mr Foster was later appointed pastor at St Paul AME Church in Hamilton. The couple were reassigned to an AME Church in the US in 1959. Mr Foster represented the Bronx borough on New York City Council in the 1970s.
The drive was organised by a group of volunteers that included Glenn Fubler, a friend of her husband’s.
Mr Fubler, a community activist, has highlighted Mr Foster’s solidarity and support in the 1980s for a worldwide campaign against the racist apartheid system in South Africa.
Ms Foster, whose family came from the West End, said this week she was proud of “my Bermuda roots”.
The former Helen Somersall was a teacher at the Berkeley Institute and a devoted academic with a love of literacy.
The Westgate books drive was begun by a team of volunteers called the Personal Empowerment Circle that started once a month visits to Westgate to talk to prisoners, listen to their stories and help in their personal development.
The campaign to boost access to books was welcomed by Keeva Joell-Benjamin, the Commissioner of Corrections.
Ms Foster told The Royal Gazette the campaign was in line with her husband’s “renaissance man” spirit.
She added: “What makes him so special is that he just did it. He didn’t talk much – he just did it.”
She added friends in Bermuda had nicknamed him “Mr Perpetual Motion”.
Ms Foster said: “His interest was, as with St Paul, first and foremost in transformation by the renewal of the mind. You did not have to be confined to your circumstances.
“He would bring people in to speak and broaden the Bermuda horizon, to show there was more out there and he was a connector of people.”
Mr Fubler said Mr Foster’s legacy in Bermuda was reflected in the journey by about 30 people from the island to his funeral in New York, where they joined hundreds including the city’s first Black mayor, the late David Dinkins.
The Westgate books drive, which has a charitable fundraising licence, is collecting donations from the public through four bookstores.
Gift certificates can be bought at the Bermuda Bookstore, the Bookmart at Brown & Co and the Bermuda Griot, all in Hamilton, and at Long Story Short in St George.
Donations of Bermuda history books will also be accepted.