'He was a superhero': Education pioneer Dr. Marcus Foster's legacy celebrated at Oakland exhibit

Julian Glover Image
Friday, August 4, 2023
Dr. Marcus Foster's legacy celebrated at Oakland exhibit
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The Marcus Foster Education Institute is celebrating 50 years of transformative work in education and the centennial birth anniversary of its founder.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The Marcus Foster Education Institute (MFEI), an East Bay nonprofit dedicated to advancing equity in schools, celebrates a double milestone this year: 50 years of transformative work in education and the centennial birth anniversary of its founder, Dr. Marcus A. Foster.

A special exhibit titled "Audacity to Believe" is on display at the African American Museum and Library in Oakland, showcasing the life and enduring legacy of the pioneering educator. The exhibit features intimate images of Foster in the classroom, newspaper clippings chronicling his life and the cap and gown he wore when he became Dr. Foster.

"To me, he's a superhero. More than just fighting for education for our children, I feel like he laid a blueprint for an entire community to come together and support education," said Patanisha Williams, an Oakland native who curated the exhibit.

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Foster believed that all students could be taught, regardless of circumstances. This philosophy continues to reverberate through the halls of schools nationwide and is the guiding principle of MFEI.

Foster's extraordinary career saw him appointed as the superintendent of schools in Philadelphia, making him the first Black person to lead a major school district in the United States. His ability to build a coalition brought him to Oakland in 1970 to run the school district here.

Many of Foster's ideas, seen as progressive during his time, remain relevant today. His book "Making Schools Work" is among the items on display at the exhibit.

"In studying Dr. Marcus Foster, I was pretty amazed at how current his solutions are," Williams said.

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Retired Oakland teacher Dr. Denise Saddler agrees: "If you look at Dr. Foster's actual words, in his speeches, in his book, in his writings, I think there's a roadmap for us to continue to work on."

Unfortunately, Foster's life was tragically cut short when he was assassinated in November 1973 by two members of a left-wing extremist group who took issue with his policies. He had been the superintendent of Oakland School District for three years. His tombstone simply reads, "He gave his life for the children of Oakland."

Today, MFEI carries on his legacy by providing scholarships and internships to students of diverse backgrounds and funding programs that make a tangible impact on communities.

Beneficiaries of these programs like Yulissa Diaz and Alexandria Hamilton know that value firsthand. They're now walking in Foster's footsteps.

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"I've just been inspired by all of the support and help that I've gotten from my community and from organizations like Marcus Foster that has sparked creativity in my life," said Hamilton.

Diaz added, "It's very inspiring to question systems and to really look into the community for knowledge and for solutions that we know we have."

The "Audacity to Believe" exhibit is open now and runs through the end of November.

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