Judith Foster leads her HERO walking group.

Credit: Tina Martin/WGBH News

Mother Leads Nature Walks In Honor Of Her Murdered Son

May 16, 2017

As the weather gets warmer, Boston often sees an increase in violence — and many of the crimes are among young people. One mother is trying to change that by exposing people to the outdoors. Her name is Judith Foster, and she is the woman behind the HERO mission.

Every Saturday, Foster leads her group on a three-mile walk through the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton. She explained what HERO stands for.

“Healing, empathy, redemption, oasis," she said.

Foster started the walks as a way to heal from her own tragedy. Four years ago, Foster’s youngest child, Paul, was shot and killed at a nightclub in Charlotte, N.C. He was a senior there at Johnson C. Smith University, and his murder happened just few weeks before he was set to graduate with a degree in computer science.

Paul’s murder is still under investigation, but during her time of loss and grief Foster says she found peace and healing in walking the Blue Hills. 

“He had a love of nature, and I thought by being close to nature I'd be close to him," she said.

So each week, Judith invites people like 25-year-old Bakari Johnson to walk with her. Johnson says he uses the walks to get away from the noise of the city. He hopes to keep walking all summer to stay away from trouble.

“We have to do something to break the cycle, break the mold, and this is definitely something that nobody would think is fun at the end of the day," Johnson said.

Foster's idea has some clinical backing. A 2016 study done by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital suggests a link between greenness and mental health measured through lower levels of depression.

Pastor Mark Scott, Co-Chair of the Boston Youth Violence Reduction Task Force hopes as it gets hotter and violence spikes, that young people will choose to take a few steps to keep the peace. Scott says walking is an easy thing to do.

“It’s really simple, right, what we’re doing is taking a walk in nature which is a tremendous resource which is available to us,” Scott said. “We’re constantly being hit and bombarded by this kind of violence and we have to react to it every time. But there are things that can be done, traditions that we can create, like coming out on a Saturday to take a walk in the woods.”

The HERO group gets bigger as the weeks go by. The walks are free and open to anyone. Judith Foster believes her son would approve.


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