On The Cosby Show back in the 1980s, legendary comedian-actor-educational activist Dr. Bill Cosby used the vehicle of the sitcom to present a perfectly idealized family dynamic. Both parents were successful and highly educated. Their children were all ambitious and college-bound. The fact that it was a black family was groundbreaking and showed that the desire to achieve academic excellence was indeed a universal goal.
Following the series’ finale, Cosby, through his involvement with many charitable organizations in support of education, particularly black colleges, became a vocal proponent of re-establishing a focus on education in the black community. He even created a controversy in recent years with his biting indictment of failing families.
As the keynote speaker at the fourth annual “Power of Parents Conference,” which was held at McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive on Dec. 6, Cosby addressed a crowd of more than 10,000 parents on the importance of being involved with their children’s education and the malaise he sees in some communities that he feels have become satisfied with academic underachievement.
“I really don’t know how we arrived here. I can’t believe there are parents in our community that don’t know how to parent,” said Cosby. “I grew up listening to testimonials from relatives that claimed they never had a full-course meal until they were 27 or didn’t taste chewing gum until they were 40, and they never stopped believing in the power of an education to see through the hardships. Today, that message has been severely lost.”
The 69-year-old Cosby encouraged parents to teach love to their children, which he adds does not include buying them everything they want, but focusing primarily on their needs. He also urged parents to take an active role in how their children are educated and that being there with them during the process is key to regaining the commitment.
“Don’t just show up when a teacher tells you to,” he said. “By the number of those in attendance, I know that you are committed to taking these steps to improve your child’s education. The school board has its responsibilities and improvements it needs to make. However, it starts at home.”
Speakers at the event also included Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan, Chicago Board of Education President Rufus Williams, Los Angelas educator George McKenna, criminal defense attorney and singer Lauren Blake, and news anchor Robin Robinson, who said, “I’m the mother of three-a 17-year-old, a 15-year-old and a 9-year-old-so I know what it feels like to need a little power.”
Duncan said, “I am the father of two, a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. I want them to have the best schooling my wife and I can provide. With his appearance here today, Dr. Cosby shows that he is not just interested in making us laugh, but he is also dedicated to improving the educational system. Working together, we can all create something special.”
Cosby also spoke at the “Just For Men” event, speaking only to the men about creating a more nurturing environment for their children to succeed, along with the importance of taking responsibility and understanding the consequences of their actions. Cosby addressed everything from joining gangs to failing classes.
The Power of Parents Conference is a two-day event allowing parents to participate in workshops on topics ranging from “Parents are the Real Role Models” to “Community Services That Help You,” and to ask questions and discuss solutions with panelists and speakers about the disparities in academic achievement.
“Home is where it belongs, and it is your job to instill these values,” said Cosby. “I remember the late great Ed Bradley tell me about growing up in a house with his mother who was very poor. Nevertheless, she put him in a Catholic boarding school and always told him to believe that he would succeed. He never stopped believing, even when the odds were stacked against him. This must be our new attitude in our households. Aren’t our children worth it?”