BILL COSBY'S traveling road show on moral values came to Baltimore this week and brought down the house. During an appearance before 1,400 parents, teachers and students at W.E.B. DuBois High School, Mr. Cosby was greeted with several standing ovations as he talked about touchy subjects such as out-of-wedlock births, absentee fathers and a greater need for personal responsibility among African-Americans.
This was hardly the firestorm he created several months ago at a 50th anniversary celebration of Brown vs. Board of Education, when he took lower-income black parents to task for, among other things, caring more about expensive sneakers than books for their kids. Since then, Mr. Cosby has tempered his criticisms somewhat, saying that he did not mean to include all low-income black families. And, far from giving up his crusade, he has launched a nationwide tour to cities such as Newark, N.J., Milwaukee and Cleveland, listening to the concerns of community leaders before talking to wider audiences.
Before his appearance at DuBois High School, Mr. Cosby, who has a doctorate in education, met with teachers at a conference at Morgan State University. Hearing news about recent arsons and other violent incidents in city schools, Mr. Cosby added Baltimore to his list. He may have been preaching to a self-selected choir, but his remarks were certainly relevant in a city with murders (mostly among young black males) inching back up to 300 a year, a high school dropout rate of nearly 12 percent, a teenage pregnancy near 20 percent and a rate of births to unmarried women of more than 60 percent.
Given the prominence of narrowly defined "moral values" in the recent presidential election, Mr. Cosby might seem to be treading on thin ice. Is there someone out there who would be a better crusader to take on these issues? Perhaps. But it's Mr. Cosby who has been willing to use his formidable professional stature and visibility to spotlight delicate personal matters that many blacks have long talked about privately.
Mr. Cosby and his wife, Camille, have also put their money where their concern is, giving millions to black colleges and other education-related causes. Are there forces beyond the control of the black community alone, such as structural racism, that stifle progress? Certainly. But that does not eliminate the need to talk about and tackle problems that are within an individual's control.
Mr. Cosby's road show is on the right track.