Few would argue that when you tuned in to “The Cosby Show,” one of the most watched television shows in the late 80s and early 90s, you could always count on some laughter as well as a social message mixed in. “The Cosby Show” also did a great deal to eradicate some stereotypes about people. With the show still being watched by millions in reruns, Bill Cosby has taken on a new calling. Always an advocate for children and families, his voice has become even more powerful. Over the past few years he has chastised some parents for having misplaced priorities. He suggests that children should be hooked on phonics and not hooked on X-Box. Cosby reminds us that we have a responsibility to prepare the next generation of leaders.
As he has traveled around the country, he has been met with some criticism. His critics suggest that he is out of touch with parents and caregivers who, with their children, struggle to make ends meet every day. They further suggest that he doesn’t understand today’s family structure. Many forget that Bill Cosby was not born with a silver spoon in his beloved hometown of Philadelphia. Bill Cosby, like many of us, has fallen a time or two but he always managed to get back up.
This, I think, is what Bill Cosby is imploring us to do; that is, to get back in the race called life. Far too many of our children and families are dropping out of it. Our drive for success has almost grinded to a halt. We no longer want to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps but we want to use our life circumstances to stay down. Of course, there are no “perfect children and no perfect families.” However, because we don’t have perfection doesn’t mean that we should not strive to reach our goals and dreams. The challenges of the day affect all of us, rich and poor, Black and White. None of us are immune or safe from what life has to offer. If you’ll recall, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. suggested that it is not how we react in times of comfort and convenience but how we react in times of challenge and controversy. For far too many families today the misery index is high and the prospects of hope are dim. Yet we must make every effort to lower the misery index and to shine a light of hope into dark places.
In his new book, Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors, Cosby teams up with Dr. Alvin Poussaint, the noted professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who also consulted for “The Cosby Show.” In this book they challenge readers to leave the land of familiar and to do something with their lives. The book has several themes, which, I believe, we can use as a blueprint for action. One of the themes says simply that we should reclaim our neighborhoods. If you are a baby boomer like me, you can remember walking through your neighborhood and not worrying about being shot or robbed. During the summer people could sit on their porches until the wee hours of night. Those days are long gone because of the violence that has a stranglehold on our communities. But our neighborhoods belong to us, and we must marshal enough resolve to take them back from the enemy.
The book also suggests that we must become better and more effective parents and caregivers. I have long advocated that we must be on the parent ship and not the friend ship. Cosby and Poussaint suggest that effective parenting is a skill and that it doesn’t just happen. Fortunately, today there are actual parenting classes you can attend that will provide you with the proper tools and resources. We can all point to families where children are in charge. Why? Because their attitudes and behaviors are out of control, and they are holding their parents hostage. One of my good friends suggests that some parents are committing “parental malpractice.” We assuage our children by giving them everything they want and not what they need. Home training, while an old fashioned term, needs to be dusted off and brought back. The high level of respect that we had for our parents must be brought back to this generation.
Another theme that comes through is the importance of education. While some may have a different perspective, education and training after high school is a must. Gone are the days when having just a high school education will assure you the “good life.” Cosby and Poussaint strongly suggest that going to college should be the rule and not the exception especially in the new millennium. As parents, we have high hopes for our children. Research has shown us that students can’t reach up to low expectations. In order for our students to aspire to college then we as parents must inspire them to go to college. Education in our communities must be valued. It must become an expectation in each of our homes.
Pick up and read this book by Cosby and Poussaint. You will find something in it that will make you a better parent and a better member of your community.
Dr. James Ewers is the associate dean for student affairs for Miami University Middletown in Middletown, Ohio.
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