Cosby Honors King
Comic superstar gives address during annual MLK scholarship breakfast.
In a 90-minute talk peppered with anecdotes, humor and his trademark candor, entertainer Bill Cosby told a sellout crowd Jan. 16 that upholding the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. begins with how we raise—and challenge—our children.
“The revolution today is in the home,” Cosby said to 427 guests who packed the Eynon Ballroom in Rowan’s Chamberlain Student Center for Rowan’s 26th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast.
Citing major societal issues such as teenage pregnancy, the murder rate of young people, substance abuse and problems in public schools, Cosby said challenges remain for Americans and it’s up to the nation’s elders to stand up for young people and to prepare them for success.
“It’s important for all of us to take the time to think of the positive things we can be doing,” Cosby said.
“Dr. King was preparing us and we have not done a good job of receiving the message. If we don’t speak up, if we don’t challenge these things we see and know…it’s the same as if there’d never been a march (on Washington). We cannot throw it away. We’re supposed to be better than this.”
Whether they’re parents, aunts, uncles, or grandparents, adults have a responsibility to set limits for children and to show them the possibilities for success, Cosby said.
“Take your children places and let them know they can be working in that building over there. They’ve got to know that. You’ve got to tell them, ‘Outside of where you are, there is life. There is potential,’” he said.
A father of five and grandfather of three, Cosby himself is a similar success story. One of the nation’s most beloved comedians, he rose from humble beginnings in a Philadelphia housing project to become an Emmy- and Grammy-winning entertainer and best-selling author. In the 1960s, his role on TV’s “I Spy” made him the first African-American to co-star in a dramatic series, braking television’s racial barrier. The show was produced at the height of the Civil Rights movement.
In the 1980s, Cosby produced and starred in “The Cosby Show,” widely considered one of the decade’s defining sitcoms. Coretta Scott King called the show “The most positive portrayal of black family life that has ever been broadcast.”
Recipient of more than a dozen honorary degrees from American colleges and universities, Cosby received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002 and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2009.
As he spoke, Cosby wore a gold and brown Rowan sweatshirt emblazoned with the words “Hello Friend” across the front. The shirt was a tribute to the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation that Cosby and his wife Camille established in memory of their late son.
Cosby’s remarks--and his contributions to the world as an entertainer, author, activist, and philanthropist--resonated with Rowan junior public relations major Michael Wilson of Plainfield, a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity. King, Jesse Owens, Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall all were members of the fraternity.
“Dr. Cosby touched on a lot of the challenges inner-city children face, which is something I related to,” Wilson said. “He reminded us that, as students, we need to challenge our professors—and ourselves—more.”
Sponsored by the Rowan University Foundation, the University’s annual MLK Breakfast benefits the William H. Myers Scholarship Endowment Fund, which provides financial support for high-achieving minority students. Myers, who died in 2003, mentored hundreds of students during his 26-year Rowan career.
Past speakers at the breakfast have included Andrew Young, Harry Belafonte, Dick Gregory, and William H. Gray, III, among others.
Fifteen Rowan students received Myers Scholarships this year.