As part of a nationwide tour, entertainer and activist Dr. Bill Cosby recently hosted two forums at the University of the District of Columbia in an effort to spur community action to break the cycle of violence, poverty and hopelessness plaguing many urban minorities.
In the first “Call Out” forum, dedicated to foster parents and their children, Cosby discussed the role community colleges play in breaking that cycle, while Prince George’s Community College President Ronald Williams highlighted the numerous two-year programs that can lead to lucrative salaries.
“I think this conversation forced upon us by Dr. Cosby is long overdue,” Williams said. “Probably 60 or 70 percent of the students that I see have in one way or another not succeeded before they’ve come to the college. So in a sense, they’re out there reconstructing their lives in very significant ways, and I see that as a statement of hope.”
Williams said community colleges are instrumental to giving impoverished minorities the tools to move into the middle class, and they help Blacks “take themselves from a position of disadvantage and translate that through education into positions of power.” UDC is the District of Columbia’s sole public higher education institution, offering two-year, four-year and master’s degrees. UDC also has a law school.
Cosby, who has visited 18 cities in 18 months, including Dallas, Houston and New York, agreed. “Dr. Williams sits here, and this man is the most important man to you foster parents. Dr. Williams has a school, a community college — I think there should be a statue [of a community college] that should stand next to the Statue of Liberty because the community college is a place where you can bring your tired, your poor.” Cosby said.
Though the televised second forum went off without a hitch, the first featured an unexpected confrontation between Cosby and a heckler from the crowd. The man called Cosby’s forum a “watered-down dialogue” and criticized him for not holding a debate with critics like University of Pennsylvania Professor Michael Eric Dyson.
Dyson’s recent book Is Bill Cosby Right? (Or Has The Black Middle Class Lost Its Mind) blasted Cosby for comments he made in 2004 deriding poor Blacks. Among other controversial statements, Cosby derided poor Blacks for their lack of English skills, telling them to buy Hooked on Phonics lessons instead of $500 sneakers. Cosby also questioned Black outrage over police brutality, insinuating that it may be the natural result of criminal activity among Blacks. (see Black Issues In Higher Education, Aug. 11, 2005)
The heckler’s comments regarding Dyson’s criticisms drew a heated response from Cosby, who angrily jumped off the UDC auditorium stage and went into the crowd to confront the man. As in the past, Cosby said Dyson’s book is full of untruths and mischaracterizations.
“You don’t deserve a forum with me because you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Cosby said. “Dyson means nothing to me. I am not afraid of any Mr. Dyson. But Mr. Dyson is not a truthful man.”
— By David Pluviose
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com