Residents hold candlelight vigil for Mullaly Park to be renamed Reverend Wendell Foster Park

Helen Diane Foster speaks about her dad and why the park should be named after him.
Photos by Jason Cohen

Reverend Dr. Wendell Foster was the first Black NYC Councilman and beloved in the south Bronx. Foster passed away in 2019 and residents are now hoping his legacy lives on forever.

As NYC has pledged to rename parks after Black Americans, one of those is Mullaly Park, which is named after John Mullaly, a known racist who was an agitator and instigator of the NYC Draft Riots during the Civil War.

After Bronxites rallied in July 2020 denouncing Mullaly, they gathered again on March 11 and held a candlelight vigil calling for the park to be renamed Reverend Wendell Foster Park

Foster served on the Council from 1978 to 2001, was a civil rights advocate, involved with New York CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), marched alongside the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights activists on the Selma to Montgomery March and was a founding pastor at Christ Church on 860 Forest Avenue for over 42 years.

A resident speaks at the vigil

“He definitely had an impact on a lot of people,” said his daughter Helen Diane Foster, who followed her dad’s footsteps and served on council from 2002 to 2013. “He represented love and unconditional love. I think what’s so important is that everybody has their own story and he made everyone feel special.”

She told the Bronx Times that even when the fires ravaged the south Bronx her family never left the area.

This park is also quite personal to her as she went there as a kid and brings her daughter there as well.

“It (renaming) would just be one of many ways that people remember who he is and what he stood for.”

Among the people in attendance at the vigil was Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson. Gibson stressed that names like Mullaly do not belong on any parks in the city. It’s time to make this area known for someone who did good for the community, she said.

“His lifetime of dedicated public service to our community makes him worthy of this distinguished honor and recognition,” Gibson said. “I am proud to support the renaming of Mullaly Park in honor of the late Rev. Wendell T. Foster.

“We’re going to change that history with some new history. May his life and his legacy live on for generations to come.”

Mohammed Mardah, chairman, African Advisory Council, was quite emotional when speaking about his late friend. Mardah recalled that when he first arrived in the Bronx in 1998 he was looking for a place to play soccer. Everywhere he went he was told no.

But, with the Reverend’s help soccer was soon played at Mullaly Park. The two met at a Parent Teacher Association meeting and became close friends.

More importantly, he gave the African and immigrant community a voice in the Bronx, he stressed.

“It is well earned and deserved and future generations of young black men will come to know the story of this great man who championed the cause of the downtrodden and gave a voice to the voiceless,” Mardah said.

The Parks Department will announce the new name for the park in June.

Mohammed Mardah, chairman, African Advisory Council, speaks about his friend Reverend Dr. Wendell Foster.

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