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All Jokes Aside
In nationwide tour, Bill Cosby discusses the role
community colleges can play in breaking the cycle of poverty.
By David Pluviose

As part of a nationwide tour, entertainer and activist Dr. Bill Cosby hosted two forums at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) last month 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.”

Statistics cited by Williams indicate that community colleges educate 55 percent of all Hispanics and 46 percent of all Blacks in the nation. He 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.”

Cosby’s stop at UDC is one of 18 in as many months. UDC is the district’s sole public higher education institution, offering two-year, four-year and master’s degrees. UDC also has a law school.

“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.

In his classic comedic style, Cosby joked about his experiences sitting in cabs in the district and wondering why Nigerian, Ethiopian and Ghanaian drivers often took their time hitting the gas when stoplights turned green. He said that when he questions them about the delay, many say they are reading engineering textbooks during the red light to keep up with their UDC coursework. 

“I don’t mind listening to that story over and over, because it makes me proud,” Cosby said. “UDC is a powerful place, because UDC not only gives you a degree in two years … [if] you want to come back, you can go to graduate school and get a master’s — you’re not driving the cab anymore now. UDC didn’t put the word out right here; they sent it out to Nigeria.”

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 criticized poor Blacks for their lack language and parenting skills, telling them to buy Hooked on Phonics instead of $500 sneakers.

The heckler’s comments regarding Dyson’s criticisms drew a heated response from Cosby, who 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.”

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