“Did you know?” Daniel Foster, a senior at Hewlett High School, asks the audience of his monthly radio show of the same name. Since October, Foster’s show has aired on Irie Jam 93.5 FM, a Caribbean-style station based in Rosedale, Queens, with DJ Wayne “Oxtail” Jackson, once a month at 10 p.m. on Sunday nights. He focuses on the history of and current events affecting the West Indian and African communities and countries.
Foster, a Jamaican-American, has studied the connections between Caribbean and African history, and the effects the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonization had on the regions in school. What he didn’t have any experience in was broadcasting.
While the idea of speaking on the radio in one of the world’s biggest media markets is enough to paralyze most people with fear, Foster remained unfazed by being on the airwaves or appearing on Irie Jam’s live video stream. “There’s always some nerves with public speaking,” he said. “But as soon as the mic goes on it’s invigorating.”
Jackson, a family friend of Foster, was immediately impressed when they first met. “Dan had a real journalistic vibe, like he really felt the need to inform people,” said Jackson. “I thought he was in college not high school.”
Guests regularly appear on Jackson’s show, but he says he’s never seen someone with as little experience as Foster handle it so well. “You have to be careful, people call in and it can go [wrong] quickly,” Jackson said. “But it was almost scary how calm he was.”
He may be a natural, but Foster isn’t interested in broadcasting as a career. He’s looking to study political science and anthropology, although he said he loves having an outlet like Irie Jam to connect with people.
Foster believes that understanding history is paramount to understanding current events. According to him, he was lucky to attend Hewlett High; he said that he knows that a lot of other schools don’t cover West Indian and African history to the extent that his teachers have.
“I’m fortunate to live in a district with teachers who want to go beyond the curriculum,” he said. “So many people in the West Indian community in New York don’t have the same resources. I want to use my education and privilege to spread what I’ve learned.”
Dr. David Rifkind, a social studies teacher at the high school, has worked with Foster in the district’s youth leadership club, and is quite impressed.
“I’ve been teaching 30 years and Dan is one of the rare few,” he said. “The most amazing thing about Dan is he is totally unassuming and the most humble human being I have ever met. His academics blow me away.”
Foster is also president of the Environmental Club, a member of the History Bowl, debate team and helps with the community garden. He also plays the piano, trombone and sings in the Hewlett High School Chorale.
Interest in his heritage motivated Foster to share what he’s learned with others, in part hoping to make some listeners more politically active. He referenced the resignation of the former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, one of the topics from his last show.
He talked about how Zimbabwe remains impacted by colonization, and how Mugabe’s dedication to education might have laid the groundwork for his resignation. As a former teacher, Mugabe focused on improving literacy in Zimbabwe, which according to the U.N. was at 86.5 percent in 2015.
“Educating yourself is necessary to make political changes,” said Foster, whose next appearance on Irie Jam is Sunday, Jan. 7 at 10 p.m.