Bill Cosby on education, responsibility at Essence

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Bill Cosby used his trademark humor and storytelling style to chide hundreds gathered Saturday at the Essence Music Festival’s empowerment seminars into talking to their children about real life and, in the process, keeping it simple.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Bill Cosby used his trademark humor and storytelling style to chide hundreds gathered Saturday at the Essence Music Festival’s empowerment seminars into talking to their children about real life and, in the process, keeping it simple. "We’ve got to lay it out for them," Cosby said when asked about how to help cut the rate of teen pregnancies in America. "Let’s tell them about life. You’re 14 and having sex. OK. So, what kind of job do you have?" Cosby, who received a standing ovation when he walked on stage, said the African-American community must get involved if change is going to occur in any area. "Apathy is strangling you to death," he said, to rousing applause and a few ‘Amens’ from the crowd. "Get up. Stay on the scene. Be a studying machine," he said, drawing from soul singer James Brown’s lyrics. "We need to start getting into people’s business. We need to say, ‘Hey, I’m your cousin man, I’m your brother, I’m your sister and I don’t care if you don’t talk to me anymore but your teenage daughter ain’t got no business dressing like that!’ Tell them." Timothy G. Simmons, of Houston, said he enjoyed Cosby’s talk. "That’s what we need to hear, plain, straight talk. We need to remember that children are just that — children. And we need to stop treating them as equals," said Simmons, whose five children range in age from 40 to 19. "I never thought that I’d need to teach them about earning a living," he said. "But if you don’t teach them about money, about careers, how do they know? I’m going to pass that on to my grandchildren. Dr. Cosby did an excellent job on bringing that idea home." Cosby, whose support of education is well-known, asked what it is going to take to get people to reclaim their communities. "How long do we wait? When are you going to wake up? We can’t keep blaming people and expecting people to fix it. This has to stop." The moderator asked Cosby how to keep children out of harm’s way after reeling off a string of statistics, such as the thousands of young people killed by gun violence. "Look under the mattress," he said of hiding places for guns. "He don’t pay rent. Treat them as a child and remind them that you’re the one raising them." He then told the story of how a woman asked her son one day where he had been. "The boy said ‘uh, uh, no where.’ She asked him again, where he’d been. Again, he said, ‘uh, uh, no where. I ain’t doing nothing.’ She said, boy, where you been? Finally, he told her he was on the corner, hanging out. "The woman looked at him and told him, ‘If you’re not in the picture, you can’t be framed." Cosby appeared during an all-day summit on education . "He broke it down in layman’s terms in a very funny way about a call to action," said Joy McKenzie of Los Angeles. "I’m definitely going to talk to my nieces and nephews about some of the things he discussed." The Rev. Al Sharpton addressed the audience earlier in the day, telling them that a 50 percent dropout rate in other communities would not be tolerated. "We need to stop playing games with education in our communities," he said. Sharpton said a new racism harming African-Americans "is the racism of low expectations." "Quit telling a child what not to expect and expect them to be everything that we want them to be," he said. "We must tell our children that they are not responsible for the environment they were born in, but they have the ability to reach whatever goal they set and we must give them the tools to get there." Others who participated in the summit included Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, as well as actress Jada Pinkett Smith and Bishop T.D. Jakes. Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. Photo Caption: Entertainer Bill Cosby gestures while giving the keynote address during the African American Education Summit at the 2010 Essence Music Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans July 3. (AP Photo/Chuck Cook)

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