Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Bill Cosby Moment

(My buddy comedian Brian Copeland got a chance to meet Bill Cosby recently and the experience for him and his two kids was memorable and meaningful. People give the Cos a hard time for his jello commercials and the fact that he is so straight, but the man is really dialed in when it comes to helping kids. This is a story that warmed me up even more to the guy and I thought you might enjoy it. Brian does a one-man show called "Not A Genuine Black Man" that is the longest running one-man show in the history of SF, and he just wrote a book with the same title.)
"Bill Cosby was playing at the Luther Burbank Center (pardon me…the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts) in Santa Rosa. After watching a hilarious ninety minutes of standup (the man is 69 years old! How does he do it?) my 17 year old son, 15 year old daughter and I were invited to come backstage after his show for a quick ‘meet and greet’. As we made our way through the receiving line, Mr. Cosby shook hands took photos with admirers and politely sent them on their way. When our turn came, he shook my hand and looked at my kids.
"Who are these two young people?" He asked.
"My son, Adam and my daughter Carolyn," I said.
"Sit down," he told us as he pointed to a table and chairs in his dressing room.
We did as he requested and we spent an hour that none of us will ever forget. He talked to the kids about the importance of education. He spoke of the responsibility that they have as both Americans and African Americans to contribute positively to society. He warned them to beware of people who will try to pull them down, blacks who will tell them that they are ‘trying to act white’ by studying and working hard and whites who will not give them their full due based upon their skin color. He warned Carolyn to beware of boys with a smooth line and no ambition and Adam to watch out for ‘TTs’ (Trollop Tramps) as both will keep them from reaching their full potential.
He told us how he has been speaking to schools and organizations in the black community, trying (mostly in vain) to get them to stop blaming slavery and racism for everything and to start taking responsibility for their lives and their circumstances. He spoke of how distressed he is by the number of young people with no drive or desire to make anything of themselves being raised in poor circumstances by parents with no desire to do anything.
I asked him about the criticism that I have received about not being ‘a genuine black man’.
"That’s just bourgeois baiting," he said. "That has been going on as long as there has been a black middle class. It makes people doing nothing feel better about themselves by tearing down those of us who are."
He turned to my kids and said, "You are middle class black children and you will hear that nonsense."
"What should we say?" Carolyn asked.
"You look them straight in the eye and say, ‘And what are YOUR goals.’ I guarantee you that they won’t be able to answer you because they have none…other than trying to tear down yours."
As we were preparing to leave, Mr. Cosby had his assistant make copies of a poem for the kids. He then had them read it out loud line by line, stopping them to explain the significance of its meaning and how it relates to them.
"Read this every day," he said. "Remember who you are and be proud."
We have been reading it daily and I’d like to share it with you.

If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you But make allowance for their doubting too, If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, Or being hated, don't give way to hating, And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream--and not make dreams your master, If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breath a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch, If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you; If all men count with you, but none too much, If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!--Rudyard Kipling
Quite a fellow that Bill Cosby."

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