Cosby speaks to Urban League

Actor focuses on education


Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, left, stands with comedian Bill Cosby, who spoke to 750 with the Greater Toledo Urban League is to lead a morning rally.
Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, left, stands with comedian Bill Cosby, who spoke to 750 with the Greater Toledo Urban League is to lead a morning rally.
The stories in that familiar voice, told through those familiar facial expressions, brought roars of laughter.

Anyone other than Bill Cosby telling of a childhood spent poor and hungry, of an alcoholic, sometimes absent, father and a brilliant mother forced to work 12-hour days to support her boys, might as easily have inspired tears.

But Mr. Cosby was out to inspire action, not pity, in a freewheeling-yet-focused talk at the Greater Toledo Urban League's 14th annual dinner Friday night at Parkway Place in Maumee.

The talk was a prelude to a community rally at 11 a.m. Saturday at Smith Park in Toledo, sponsored by the Urban League and The Blade, with themes of parents and the community taking responsibility for children — and their schools, families, and neighborhoods.

"It's always been about the children," Mr. Cosby said, echoing an earlier speaker. "Even when we were children, it's been about us.

"Things have happened and people use these things that have happened as reasons, but they also use them as excuses for not moving," he said.

"They also exclude history. If you have no one teach you about how people succeeded through all kinds of pain, then you will not have an idea or a thought that you can get up. I'm just tired of hearing people not teaching their children. I'm tired of children raising themselves. I'm tired of us talking about children raising themselves and doing nothing.''

And, he said, children need a home with a mother and father present.

"I'm tired of looking into the eyes of young boys and girls, youth. ‘How's your mother?' ‘Fine.' ‘Where's your father?' ‘He's not in our life.' It's a lie," Mr. Cosby said.

"He is there. He's there in spirit, like soiled clothing, like rotting food. Human beings are the only ones that worry about where the father went, where the mother went — the only animals on this earth that worry, ‘Was I too ugly?' ‘What was wrong with me that they left?'"

Mr. Cosby told of the tough teacher who kept him on track at Mary Channing Wister Elementary, a public school in Philadelphia, but of slipping afterward. He left Central High School at 19 — after the 10th grade — and enlisted in the Navy, though not to see the world. "No. I just [wanted] to get off my block." And of the way he was held to account from the first day, awakened at 4:30 a.m. by an officer who barked, "‘I am not your mother.'
They don't have that today. Children need that today," he said.

Mr. Cosby — in addition to his renown in comedy and on television — went on to attend Temple University in Philadelphia, from which he received a bachelor's degree. He received a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

He said Friday night that when he was invited to come and get an award by the Rev. John Jones, president of the Greater Toledo Urban League, he suggested the rally.

"We're going to this park. It's my trophy," he said.

Rally-goers will march, asking for safe passage through troubled neighborhoods, so children and the elderly can be safe where they live. They'll carry signs, "Our community, our responsibility" and "Our children, our responsibility."

"We're going to march; we've got drums," Mr. Cosby said.

"I hope that Toledo is ready. It sounds in this room ready. It sounds ready," he said to applause. "We're going to walk, shake hands. Look at the faces, smile back at them. Don't give them an out. Let them know you're here to help."

The dinner attracted a sell-out crowd of 750, Mr. Jones said, adding that beyond the dinner and the rally, "there needs to be a ripple effect that continues."

The event also marked the start of The Blade's new "Education Matters" initiative, co-sponsored by The Blade and Buckeye CableSystem, both owned by Block Communications Inc.

Allan Block, chairman of Block Communications, was honorary chairman of Friday night's dinner. Joseph H. Zerbey IV, president and general manager of The Blade, introduced Mr. Cosby.

Parts of Mr. Cosby's visit Saturday will be videotaped by Buckeye CableSystem and will be available shortly after through video-on-demand on the Buckeye cable network.

As part of the initiative, The Blade plans to report in an occasional series about the travails and successes of public education in the Toledo area and elsewhere, and to periodically invite speakers from around the country who have made serious improvements in their local school systems.

The Blade hopes the example of those successes will inform TPS and the greater community.

Also at Friday night's dinner, Crystal Ellis, former superintendent of the Toledo Public Schools, received the Charles H. Penn Humanitarian Award.

Derick Gant, of Comexx Consulting, received the Urban League/James A Poure Minority Business Award.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: or 419-724-6182.