Bill Cosby returns to his point of communication

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A year has passed since Bill Cosby embarked on a nationwide tour of self-financed town halls where he challenged black Americans - no, urged them to challenge themselves - to overcome their circumstances.

Today his message is the same: Black folks, particularly those with low incomes and extra hardships, must stop seeing themselves as victims and not let poverty and despair mold their lifestyles. The only way to change is for black people to communicate.

&#8221That's the biggest thing we need to do - talk to each other, seriously, about making corrections that we already know should have been made - and then getting people to agree to join and make the corrections,“ he said in a recent interview.

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Cosby drew more than 2,000 people to Wayne County Community College District in Detroit last January to hear him question why a city that is 87 percent black continues to blame white people for its problems. His national mission was derailed a day later when a Canadian woman accused him of sexual misconduct in a case that police dismissed. The charges, a lawsuit and subsequent allegations by other women raised questions about whether Cosby is the best spokesman for a movement to get millions of people to raise their personal standards.

&#8221It was a blow,“ he said, &#8221because something like that put me in a position of having to clear myself.“

After weeks of introspection and a public apology to his wife, Cosby hit the road again.

&#8221Looking at myself, I still realize that what I'm saying is correct,“ he said. &#8221And that I know that I am a good person. I know that I can be trusted. And I know that what I am doing right now is very, very important.

&#8221This is not someone asking to raise funds for himself. This is someone saying, `No, we will not overcome some day. We will overcome now.'“

If any city needs encouragement, it is Detroit, where complacency is the motto and acceptance of the status quo the mantra.

Seventy percent of babies born in this city are born to single mothers, most of whom are poor. The city government and city schools are in serious debt, and two people, on average, were shot every day last year.

Cosby's last Detroit visit had results. Last spring, more than 30 community groups formed a coalition called ARISE: Detroit, to lead a movement to connect people with each other.

But if nothing else, Cosby's conversations may help Detroiters take a harsher, more realistic look at what its residents must do for its children.

&#8221The fact that you can be in a classroom and know at least four kids in that classroom who've got a father incarcerated or a mother on crack or who didn't eat breakfast that day …“ Cosby said. &#8221These numbers need attention and people are waiting for somebody to come and drop some money down or something.“

Rochelle Riley is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to her at: Detroit Free Press, 600 West Fort Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via e-mail at