Despite a proud history of dignity and achievement, the African-American community today is ”stuck and stopped,” thus limiting its great potential, humorist/activist Bill Cosby told an audience of educators, lawmakers and community leaders last week in Durham’s Research Triangle Park.
”Who do you think we are?” Cosby, 71, asked over 300 gathered. ”Who have we been, and what are we now? Why are we letting things get away from us?”
”Where is the pride?”
The famous author and television personality also chided historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for ”begging” their alumni to contribute to their institutions, saying instead that administrators should ”make them feel bad,” and demand better support from past graduates to insure good educations for coming generations of students.
”Do things with pride, and a sense of history,” Cosby told college presidents and administrators in attendance. ”How dare you, dare you, think that you’re not worthy to raise money for your school.”
Cosby was the keynote speaker during the Oct. 7th dinner session of the three-day, ”Straight Talk Symposium – Securing the Financial Future of North Carolina HBCUs and Their Communities,” sponsored by the NC Institute of Minority Economic Development (NCIMED), the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity & Inclusion Institute, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the North Carolina Community Development Initiative.
The conference, held at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel & Convention Center in Durham, focused not only on ways to secure the financial viability of HBCUs – many of which are struggling to stay open during tough economic times amid a worldwide financial crisis – but also defining black higher education’s role in closing the racial achievement gap, addressing high drop-out rates, and leveraging community resources.
With such notables in the audience as Duke University History Professor Emeritus Dr. John Hope Franklin, and Dr. Johnnetta Cole, president emeritus of both Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.
and Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC; Cosby, who holds a 1976 Doctorate in Education from the University of Massachusetts, spoke intimately and at length about the declining state of Black America, and the desperate need for HBCUs to reclaim their historic sense of mission and purpose.
Focusing on declining standards in the black community, the outspoken humorist, who shocked the nation and drew criticism in May 2004 when he told those gathered at an NAACP event that ”lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal,” and ”they’re standing on the corner and they can’t speak English,” adopted a decidedly softer, more thoughtful yet entertaining tone in expressing his consternation last week.
”Where are you for the long run?” Cosby asked the audience while sitting in a chair on stage with a black curtain backdrop, and a small table beside him with two glasses, as if in one of his famous nightclub settings. ”You are somebody’s great, great grandchild.
When did you lose what got us to a certain point?”
What’s lost today in the African-American community, Cosby went on to say, is pride, knowledge of self and history.
”The community knew each other,” he said, referring to the years before desegregation in the late 60′s and early seventies. ”We had that pride. If something’s wrong, you fix it.”
Cosby, who co-wrote the book, ”Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors” with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School; spoke passionately about the courage and struggles of black people ever since they were brought to these shores in chains from Africa over 400 years ago.
He talked about the high standards of achievement in business and vocations set by the black family and community, which placed getting a good education at a premium.
With high crime, teen pregnancy, poor health and declining educational achievement plaguing blacks today, Cosby dismissed allowing racism to hold blacks back any longer, and questioned the African-American community’s commitment to those once high standards now.
”What’s causing your depression that’s keeping you frozen? What are you afraid to lose? The ‘village’ is not working at all. We’re afraid to speak up, but our children want us to correct them,” Cosby said.
”We’re in a mindset of stopped and stuck,” the humorist continued. ”So come on, village, what are you waiting for, the government to save you?”
”Have you no pride?”
The audience, in large part, clapped consistently as Cosby continued his pinpointed admonishments of the African-American community. Interweaving bits of humor with serious statements, the entertainer drew laughs when he said people who are depressed, ”Need to be yelled at sometimes.”
”If James Brown can yell, why can’t I?” Cosby asked, then imitating one of the late soul singer’s greatest hits by singing, ” Get up-pa, get on up, stay on the scene, like a studying machine.”
Since the primary focus of the three-day conference was the financial future of HBCUs, Cosby delivered a strong message to them, and the community that is supposed to be supporting them.
In recent years a number of HBCUs have either lost their accreditation due to alleged financial mismanagement, like Morris Brown College in Atlanta; or were on the brink of closing, like Bennett College in Greensboro in 2002.
In Bennett’s case, Dr. Johnnetta Cole, who had previously served as president of Spelman College, came in as president, and in five years, got the all-women’s college back on sturdy financial and academic ground before leaving last year.
Cosby said beyond financial mismanagement, a key reason many HBCUs are in trouble is because alums aren’t giving back to their alma maters like they should, and should be held accountable for their failures.
He spoke of the late CBS newsman Ed Bradley, who graduated from Cheney State College in Pennsylvania, and how much Bradley cherished and supported what wasn’t generally considered a top school.
”Ed was not afraid to say ‘Cheney’,” Cosby said, adding that HBCU alums need to display that same kind of undying pride and support of their institutions.
While telling alums that they can afford to send more, the humorist chided HBCUs for not demanding more.
”You have no right to be begging,” Cosby told HBCU administrators present. ”They can afford it�you have to make them feel bad.”
Cosby had strong messages for young people and their parents as well.
He said students have to understand that they’re attending school to learn and achieve, not to have sex and party.
HBCUs historically take in students who couldn’t attend college elsewhere, and give them the skills to compete. But those students have to do their part, Cosby said, and realize that ”the party is over.”
Cosby added that the children are lost, because ”their parents are lost.”
”You’ve got to have the pride, and the integrity to call in the chips,” the entertainer told the audience.
”How long do you want to struggle?,” he asked. ”If it takes a village, then go on into the village. But we can’t let anyone else do it.”
Earlier in his presentation, Cosby paid tribute to Dr. Franklin, saying that the renowned historian and scholar was ”a wonderful man.”
””He certainly conveyed to us the message that we are responsible for the next generation,” Dr. Franklin said afterwards when he took the stage with Cosby.
By CASH MICHAELS
The Wilmington Journal
Originally posted 10/27/2008