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December 23, 2008
Column #1,426
Bill Cosby's Challenge: "Come On People"
by Mike McManus

Bill Cosby is a courageous man.  The first African-American TV star (in the series "I Spy") and the all-time best-selling comedian on records, he has spent recent years holding "community call-outs" in cities across America, with an important message to black men:

"We can change things we have control over if we accept personal responsibility and embrace self-help.  We can move forward, as we have always done, on the path from victims to victors.  COME ON PEOPLE, We can do it!"

A year ago, he published a book, "Come On People" co-authored with Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, M.D. which is must reading for parents, clergy, social workers and others dealing with troubled black youth. 

"In 1950, five out of every six black children were born into a two-parent home. Today roughly 70 percent of black babies are born each year to single mothers.  There are whole blocks with scarcely a married couple," he writes.

Cosby recalls that when he was a teenager in 1950 "we still feared parents and respected them." No longer. Why? Parenting requires both a mother and father working together. However, fathers have disappeared from most black households. "A house without a father is a challenge," he writes. "A neighborhood without fathers is a catastrophe, and that's just about what we have today."

Cosby unflinchingly outlines other horrors

1.  Homicide has long been the top cause of death for blacks aged 15-29, and suicides are up more than 100 percent.

2.  More than half of America's murders are committed by black men and a quarter of black men are in prison, on probation or on parole.

3.  Black male dropout rates are huge - 70 percent in Baltimore, and six in 10 of such men have spent time in prison. Blacks are 12 percent of America, but are more than half of prisoners.

4.  "By the year 2000, after eight straight years of economic growth, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their twenties did not have regular employment.  By 2004, that percentage had increased to a preposterous 72 percent, almost four times that among Hispanic dropouts."

"Can we fix this? Can we change it? We don't have a choice.  We have to take our neighborhoods back."  He proposes many answers.  However I will focus on four that are important - and one, to this white guy,  that he ignores, lamentably.

1.  Speak English.  While African-American kids have an advantage over most people in the world in speaking English, sadly, many males don't want to do so.  Crosby quips. "You can't be a doctor who says, `Dat tumor be nasty.' Parents and teachers have to insist kids learn and speak real English.

2.  Turn off the TV.  Take it out of the bedroom.  A fifth of babies under one have a bedroom TV parents use as a babysitter.  TV violence heightens feelings of paranoia, making kids think there is more violence outside than there is. Cosby notes, "Children who watch a lot of TV do worse in school than those who watch less.  Those who engage in other activities such as reading, games and creative play learn best."

When my kids were small, TV was off all week, except Saturday morning cartoons and Disney on Sunday night. Each learned a musical instrument and played sports. Today I'm proud to note one son owns his own firm, another is a hospital CEO and a third is a successful Christian radio talk show host.

3. Give fathers a second chance.  Many mothers shut out a father who may have been a poor dad when kids were small. Remember that the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, were encouraged by their father, Richard, to be tennis champions. Today they are world-class players.

4.  "We are calling all men, the successful and the unsuccessful, the affluent and the poor, the married and the unmarried to come and claim their children.," Cosby and Poussaint write. "It's not about you. It's about them."  If don't claim them, "you have stolen their hope."

My father poured himself into me, talking with me for hours every night, making the world, business, politics and religion fascinating.  He encouraged me to believe in myself.

My one argument with Cosby & Poussaint is that they don't encourage marriage, the only way a father can make a true commitment to children - by loving their mother.  Encouraging marriage should be a strategy by which churches, for example, to help stabilize the lives of men coming out of prison.. 
A married man has something to live for his wife and kids.

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