This comedian's message is not a laughing matter

August 23, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

So here's how my day with The Cos went.

I awoke extra early so I could take my insulin and then eat. (And Lord knows I hope it was in that order.) As I figured out the best way to get to Rosemont Elementary/Middle School in the 2700 block of Presstman St. (I didn't even know there was a 2700 block of Presstman St.), I tried to remember the last time I saw Bill Cosby in the flesh.

It was also the first time I saw him, in the early months of 1967. Cosby made an appearance at what was then the Baltimore Civic Center. My eldest sister, Barbara, knowing what I Spy fans my brother Michael and I were, bought the tickets and took us to see the show. That was the first time I heard Cosby's "Fat Albert" routine, which is still, for my money, the second-best comedy bit ever. (Abbott and Costello's "Who's On First?" will never be topped.)

But The Cos didn't rise early yesterday to be on the stage of Rosemont Elementary/Middle before 8 a.m. to do comedy. Cosby was pushing 30 the first time I saw him. His comedy albums were selling. He'd won a best actor Emmy for his role as Alexander Scott in I Spy. Three sitcoms and a comedy/variety show later, he'd become a multimillionaire.

Then in May 2004, The Cos did the unthinkable: He told a group of black folks - mainly middle class - that some poor blacks weren't "holding up their end of the bargain" in terms of reaping the benefits of the Brown v. Board of Education decision 50 years earlier. He has been excoriated by a horde of black college professors and columnists since then for "attacking" poor black people.

Cosby, who helped more black folks in one day than his critics will in their entire lifetimes, went on a counteroffensive. Kind of. What Cosby did was hold forums with those poor black folks in several cities, to see what they were thinking.

I found out what they were thinking soon after I arrived at Rosemont. Cosby, who was in town for a "back-to-school celebration," got a thunderous standing ovation when he was introduced. This confirmed what Juan Williams said in his new book, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America - and What We Can Do About It. One of Williams' observations is that it's those poor black folks who "are feeling" what Cosby is saying. They aren't feeling the gaggle of black, middle-class excuse-makers who want to portray them as perpetual victims.

That's because The Cos talks straight from the shoulder and doesn't care about airing black folks' dirty linen. In one speech, he said the dirty linen of black folks is on the street every day, with their young people who speak and act uncouthly. Cosby didn't repeat that at Rosemont yesterday, but he did say this:

"You can't keep pointing the finger and saying, `They're building more jails.' So what? Let 'em build 'em. Nobody says you have to go."

That's a bit of common sense lost on today's black misleaders, whose weekly whine consists of at least one "they [presumably white folks only] are building more jails [presumably for black folks only]" complaint. Or the twin brother of that complaint: "There are more black men in prison than in college."

These are the same leaders who have yet to take publishers and editors of publications like The Source and XXL to task for putting out "prison issues," as if a penitentiary term is a legitimate rite of passage for young black men. Too many young black men buy into that nonsense. One of them was at Cosby's second stop, Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in the 2300 block of Windsor Ave. near Mondawmin Mall.

The young black man was wearing a John Gotti T-shirt. I have no idea what that poor soul was doing there, but he was in the right place with the wrong agenda. The entire Italian-American community would scold and ostracize a young Italian-American man wearing a John Gotti T-shirt. All influential and wealthy blacks see the problem with young black men wearing them. Cosby is one of the few who has the guts to say out loud that something's wrong.

I doubt if Cosby saw the man in the Gotti T-shirt. If he had, The Cos would no doubt have chided him for being a symptom of what he alluded to at Rosemont: Any young black man who thinks John Gotti or the fictional Tony Montana (of the movie Scarface, who is also depicted on T-shirts some young black men are wearing) is an appropriate role model is going to end up in one of the jails "they" are building.

Westside Elementary School in the 2200 block of Fulton Ave. was Cosby's last stop. Sitting on a stage in the auditorium, he gathered the children around him and told those assembled, "These are God's children."

I'm glad I caught The Cos when I did. By mentioning the "G"-word in a Baltimore public school, he pretty much guaranteed that yesterday was his last appearance in this town.

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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