Cosby hopes to inspire black community

Much as the world-wise character he played on his successful self-titled sitcom would have, comedian and social activist Bill Cosby had some "grandfatherly" advice to give to a crowded gymnasium at North Division High School, 1011 W. Center St.

"I'm 67 years old, and I'm not talking to you differently than a grandpa who says, 'I wouldn't do that if I were you,'" Cosby said Wednesday night at "A Commitment to Change…A Pledge to Act," a series of speakers and panelists addressing the issues facing young urban blacks in Milwaukee.

"Too long you are holding things in," he said. "Too long, you are sitting and letting things happen and saying, 'Oh, well.'

"We all agree that a transformation has to take place," he said. "But it's not up to Jesse Jackson to come back up here or to Martin Luther King, Jr. to reappear. They've done their jobs."

Cosby spent much of his speech addressing issues facing young black men and women.

"Young males — things happen to them and they hurt," he said. "But they're taught you're a sissy if you say you hurt, and so they hold it inside. But you can't hold that ugliness inside, so they go to the street corner where there are others who hurt and they say 'Let's go beat up somebody.'"

To young women, Cosby emphasized health and abstinence.

"I want you women to demand a health report (from a prospective partner before intercourse). Your vibrator's not that far off," Cosby said. "If he's that cute, take an eight-by-10 glossy picture of him, but until you get a blood test, all games are off. I don't need another African-American female to die of AIDS."

Cosby also challenged the religious sector to increase its community involvement.

"Let me tell you something. I talked to Jesus the other day and he's tired of you," Cosby said. "He said he's done with you. He said there's a book out called the Bible and you don't read it. He said there are good things called the (Ten) Commandments, and you've thrown them all out … I say to Christians, let's make God smile."

All 2,300 tickets to the event were given away, according to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist and Wisconsin Black Media Association chapter president Eugene Kane.

The audience members appeared engaged with all the speakers' material, though it was clear that Cosby was the main event.

"It was good," said Donvin Brookshire, a 14-year-old student at St. Charles Youth and Family Education Center. "I came because Bill Cosby was here."

Cosby raised eyebrows earlier this May in a Washington D.C. speech commemorating the Brown v. Board of Education 1954 Supreme Court decision. Quotes from the May speech reveal he repeated some comments he made then at Wednesday night's event.

Kane wrote disapprovingly of Cosby in his May 20 column, which said, "In recent years, Cosby seems to have eschewed his role as 'America's Favorite Dad' in favor of 'Black America's Favorite Curmudgeon.'"

By May 23, however, Kane had changed his tune.

"He called and he clarified his stance (on the comments he made in his Washington, D.C., speech)," Kane said. "He said his message is different when it is taken in its full context than when just the harshest quotes are taken out."

"A man who has donated millions of dollars to charity — much of that in the name of educating black children — shouldn't have to defend himself from someone like me," Kane wrote in his May 23 column after speaking with Cosby.

Cosby said he came to Milwaukee after speaking with Kane.

"Mr. Kane and I had talked and I didn't know about your dropout rate or know about your murder rate or that you're something like No. 3 in teen pregnancy," he said.

Also speaking at the event were Mayor Tom Barrett, North Division High School Principal Janie Hatton and two Milwaukee Public School students.

The City of Milwaukee, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Alliance of Black School Educators and the Wisconsin Black Media Association sponsored the event.