When Bill Cosby rallied people in Toledo last month on community safety and responsibility, one of the people he met during the two-day visit was Lisa Zilba, a teacher at Scott High School. A white teacher with blond hair.
Mr. Cosby, a humorist who has taken on the self-appointed task of encouraging African-American men to greater responsibility in their homes and communities, said he invited Ms. Zilba up to the stage just to show that the black community has friends among the Caucasian race.
"Her hair is not of our color, neither is her whole skin body," Mr. Cosby told the crowd, "She cares, and she paid attention to all of you. Because she loves you."
Thursday night, Ms. Zilba and another woman from Toledo will be Mr. Cosby's guests at a banquet at Ohio State University honoring 1936 Olympics star Jesse Owens.
Ms. Zilba, 39, teaches broadcasting at Scott, which has its own jazz radio station and an in-house video production facility.
She met Mr. Cosby after he spoke at a Greater Toledo Urban League banquet March 18. Her father, George Zilba, owns the hall and bought a table for his family.
"The things he said really hit home to me because I do teach those kids and I know exactly what he's talking about. I stopped him after and spoke to him a little bit about what we experience and what he said was right on, and he, I guess, really took a liking to the fact that here I am, a teacher at a school that he's talking about," Ms. Zilba said.
Mr. Cosby said he was impressed that Ms. Zilba, as a white teacher, had a strong commitment to her predominantly black enrollment at Scott. The following morning he called her father and asked that Lisa attend a rally planned the next day in Smith Park. She showed up and at his request spoke briefly to the crowd, which included some of her students.
"I'm a white teacher in a black school and he thinks that sometimes we need to get beyond that and teach to the kids no matter what color they are," Ms. Zilba said.
She said Mr. Cosby wants her to absorb black culture and heritage to pass on to her students.
"It's nice to know there's somebody who goes around the country and is concerned about the welfare of inner-city kids," Ms. Zilba said.
Mr. Cosby said in an interview with The Blade this week he wanted Ms. Zilba and Toledo resident Kate Bonczek to return to Toledo with new knowledge to pass on to others. And it's part of an effort on his part to maintain the link with Toledo that was forged in a two-day visit March 18-19.
He said his desire was that the two of them "come together and talk in a car about life, and what you see as you are in this United States, and be able to get this history where you live and take it back and talk to children about this because history is so very, very important on both sides."
Ms. Bonczek could not be reached for comment. Ms. Zilba said she doesn't expect to be able to talk to Mr. Cosby personally Thursday night because he told her he's leaving immediately after the event.
"I feel like I've known him for years. I feel like I've got a friend in him," Ms. Zilba said.
Ms. Zilba, a former radio and television broadcaster in Springfield, Ohio, and Sandusky, became a teacher 10 years ago and has been at Scott for eight years.
Mr. Cosby, star of comedy albums and television shows going back 50 years, will be the guest speaker at a $125-per-ticket scholarship fund-raiser to honor track and field legend Jesse Owens.
The university said it is honoring Mr. Owens as "an ambassador of goodwill with a passionate concern for young people and respect for education."
Jesse Owens attended Ohio State, where he set world records in 1935. In the 1936 Olympics, Mr. Owens accomplished what no American track and field athlete had previously, winning four gold medals in one Olympiad in the 100 and 200 meters, the long jump and 400-meter relay. His accomplishment as an African-American defeated Adolf Hitler's intention of proving Aryan superiority at the Games and elevated Mr. Owens as an international hero.
Mr. Cosby's trip to Toledo March 18-19 was co-sponsored by The Blade, which used the occasion to launch its new "Education Matters" initiative, co-sponsored by The Blade and Buckeye CableSystem, both owned by Block Communications Inc.
The Rev. John Jones, president of the Greater Toledo Urban League, said Mr. Cosby has called him several times since the rally to keep up the momentum that was started that weekend. "He wants to know what are we doing to follow up," Mr. Jones said, with the implication that he'd come back again if the community activity keeps up.
"When we traveled to the airport he said, 'John, you can't let the momentum die down, you've got to keep moving in the right direction,' " Mr. Jones said. "He knows what he's doing, he knows what he's looking for. I think his bottom line is seeing that the community's impacted. Obviously, he's using the influence he has."
Contract Tom Troy at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6058.