Jameion Capps, 11, and others with the JJ Express Drill and Drum corps. perform at the rally with Bill Cosby at Smith Park.
THE BLADE/LISA DUTTON
Mr. Cosby's twinkling grin and impromptu words of wit leavened an otherwise serious appeal to the black community to take a stand against drug dealers and violence, to parents to support their children, and to children to get educated.
A crowd estimated at about 2,000 spilled out of the tent after hundreds walked with Mr. Cosby through the neighborhood.
The 73-year-old stirred up a sensation in 2004 when he said African-American youth were "going nowhere" because of a culture that glorified wealth and sports but not responsibility and education.
He engaged in prayers and jests with residents of the neighborhood around Smith Park as he walked the three blocks from the Frederick Douglass Community Center. Wearing a black down-type jacket, he sometimes mugged humorously to the beat of the marching band that preceded him.
At the rally, Mr. Cosby recited some of the sacrifices of the heroes of the civil rights struggles.
He blasted drug dealers both for the violence and for the drugs and challenged Christians with a comparison with Muslims. He said drug dealers get run out of "Muslim neighborhoods" but operate freely in a neighborhood filled with churches.
"Why can the black Muslim males have strength and care about their children, about their wives, and the Christian men are missing?" Mr. Cosby said.
"It's our responsibility. I don't care what white man is dealing what. We don't have to take it," Mr. Cosby said. "Our elders have to be able to walk, any time, day or night, with their pocketbook wide open and nobody puts their hand in it. This is our elders, our responsibility. And we will succeed."
To children, he said, "Our school. Our responsibility. Bring your parents in. Make 'em come in. Say Mama, 'This is important, this is about my success.' And go find your father. If you can't find him, go on a search big time, and tell your father I need you," Mr. Cosby said. "And it's the same for the mother. Show up to see your children. Don't use the fact that you have no money as an excuse not to give the one thing that you don't have to have a job to give, love."
Among the parade watchers was former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who stood among the spectators on Dorr Street.
"This weekend is a weekend that we begin to change Toledo's landscape," said John Jones, president of the Greater Toledo Urban League, as he warmed up the crowd in the tent at Smith Park for the comedian. "Dr. Cosby did not come all the way to Too-le-do to play around."
Mr. Cosby's hand was held tightly the entire march by Cathryn Jones, the 7-year-old daughter of Mr. Jones.
He made a stop at the barber shop at 1206 North Hawley St., the workplace of the late Racole "Coco" Hill, who was the innocent victim of a random shooting Sept. 7, 2010.
Mr. Cosby put his hand around the neck of Greg Hannibal, a barber and the former husband of Ms. Hill, and offered a prayer to "change the minds of people to realize that there are other people on this earth who should live."
"It is our job and our responsibility to look at our watches and see the time it is now that we must come out and speak out and stop the devil's work, that we need to talk to our youth and our young men and young women and explain why they need to value their own lives," Mr. Cosby said, adding, "Amen, and a-woman."
The parade veered briefly off-track in front of the Mott Branch public library where Mr. Cosby called on Mayor Bell to talk about the importance of libraries, which he did.
Inside Martin Luther King, Jr., Academy for Boys, which is adjacent to the park, Mr. Cosby had Mr. Jones say a prayer to bless the school and the children.
Mr. Cosby first was taken into King boys academy, where he spoke to a small group of MLK students and with girls from the Ella P. Stewart Academy for Girls.
Talking to the children, Mr. Cosby encouraged them to make their parents be more involved in their schools. And he lauded the work of teachers who, he said, "many times have to cover for the inadequacies that go on in the home."
"I think he said something really positive for the whole community as far as parents stepping up and being responsible to raise their own kids," said Ms. Battle, who is working on a bachelor's degree. She agreed that Mr. Cosby used strong language, but said it was called for.
"I don't think it was too hard. He said 'mothers' too. I don't think he said it in a negative way," she said.
The Rev. Bob Culp said, "Bill Cosby represents a voice that needs very much to be sounded. It was almost over the top, but he's passionate about it and it's something we need to hear. He will make you respond to it, and I'm one of those who feel challenged by what he had to say."
Mr. Cosby's career began with a tough upbringing in Philadelphia. He had a successful series of comedy albums and starred in several hit TV shows, including I Spy and The Bill Cosby Show, and wrote a book on being a father.
His trip to Toledo started with a speech Friday night to the 14th annual dinner of the Greater Toledo Urban League.
Contract Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.