Revolution Starts at Home, Says Bill Cosby

The legendary artist talks to The Root about his new book and how black folks need to help themselves.

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"The key word was 'sometimes,' " added Cosby, as he rolled out those classic admonitions from his own childhood. The fuller sentiment suggested that, with loving support and correction, even a misbehaving child might have a solid adulthood.

He continued: "But I'm telling you that I'm worried and very, very concerned today when a mother, speaking about the son being in jail, says, 'I'm happy. He's in a safe place.' You cannot take that casually."

That mother's assertion is emblematic of the powerlessness, surrender and defeat explored in Come On, People, a 2007 tome co-authored by Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Alvin Poussaint and Cosby, who earned a doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1976. Come On, People, released after Cosby's various May 2004 observations about poor blacks drew a backlash, takes on the lack of black self-empowerment and related topics.

Some commentators argued that his strident observations lacked empathy. Some faulted him for airing blacks' "dirty laundry."

"The dirty laundry is reported with the murders," Cosby said. "I want the murders stopped. I want the children stopped from dropping out on their education ... If you cannot read or write, you're going to wind up having difficulty getting a job. You'll find yourself being of low value to yourself."

That fight was against a different "enemy," he said. "Governors, mayors, presidents, secretaries of state" and, broadly, Jim Crow.

Black people led the charge that undid Jim Crow, and that's an essential lesson, Cosby said. That history is so important to him that he notes in his book some who helped make it. The name of civil rights icon Dorothy Height is the first on the acknowledgments page of I Didn't Ask to Be Born.

"John Hope Franklin ... Write his name down," he said, adding the noted historian to his own short list of important blacks.

Cosby's proclamations these days are grounded in his hope for black America, he said. "I'm optimistic because there are people out there working. I'm working and working."

He mentioned a project to keep young blacks out of jail in New Haven, Conn., which has one of the nation's highest black-on-black murder rates. He's glad that one of two young black men he recently met through that program is making his way forward. The other is back in prison.