Bill Cosby, former Hospital Corpsman during the Korean War and an honorary Navy Chief, is one of my generation’s great humanitarian philosophers and storytellers.
Most Americans may know him from his TV shows, humor books and comedy recordings, but he is also a serious author, along with his alter ego Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint. Cosby and Poussaint produced the powerful and controversial “Come On People: On the Path from Victims to Victors,” published in 2007.
The book takes on tough issues like race, sex, crime, gun violence and drugs and offers advice on health care, business, community and parenthood, especially fatherhood -- his specialty.
In “Come On People” he challenges families to live up to the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cosby writes:
“In his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, his dream was that his four little children, ‘will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’ He was talking about children advancing to become strong, beautiful people -- not abandoned by their parents, not drug addicted, not irresponsible.”
“Come On People” is a serious look at some of the same topics Cosby wrote about deftly and humorously in “Fatherhood,” recommended for new dads, in and out of the Navy. The book proves that serious points can be made with humor.
Paraphrasing Cosby, with the fulfillment of bringing children into civilization comes the responsibility “of trying to bring civilization to children.”
|Poussaint and Cosby with David Gregory on "Meet the Press."|
In “Fatherhood,” Poussaint writes the introduction and addresses the need to change from the old model of previous generations where the father was ethereal, remote and authoritarian to a new paradigm where dads are advised to “care for, nurture and discipline your children, and do it with love!”
Cosby approaches the subject with tongue-in-cheek humor:
- “Always end the name of your child with a vowel so that when you yell, the name will carry.”
- “They’re not perfect, neither are you.”
- In a chapter called “Like the Marines, Be Prepared” he mentions the advantages of choosing to have a hamster instead of a child -- to those young people who aren’t sure if they should have a baby.
- There’s even a reference to the War of 1812 (European theater): “I guess the real reason that my wife and I had children is the same reason that Napoleon had for invading Russia: it seemed like a good idea at the time. Since then, I’ve had some doubts, primarily about my intelligence.”
Cosby’s humility, understanding and commitment have only deepened over the years. His most recent book, 2011’s “I Didn’t Ask to Be Born (But I’m Glad I Was),” is packed with funny characters, stories and insights. One of my favorite essays is “Raise Your Tail!” It’s a tale about his five-year-old grandson’s obsession with Godzilla. My grandson Dylan has a similar Godzilla fixation, also watches the DVDs and, like Cosby’s grandson, went trick-or-treating in a dark green ‘zilla-like costume. I recently read the Cosby Godzilla essay to Dylan and his brother Brendan. Surreal.
Characters in “I Didn’t Ask to Be Born” and in other Cosby books -- not to mention the characters in his family-friendly comedy recordings and cartoons -- are often teaching Aesop-like lessons or providing Twain-like insights. Cosby’s mother read Mark Twain and the Bible to young Bill Cosby and his two brothers.
His father was a Navy mess steward, like famed Pearl Harbor Survivor Doris “Dorie” Miller. Bill Cosby followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the Navy in 1956. He told interviewer John Liberty in Kalamazoo, Michigan earlier this year that the Navy inspired him to become a teacher. From MLive.com:
|Bill Cosby receives the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize in 2009.|
“Cosby was born in Philadelphia in 1937. His mother was a maid and his father was a sailor in the Navy. By high school, he became known as a class clown. He never graduated from high school and eventually joined the Navy at 19, he said. Cosby said Wednesday that his time in the military -- he repeatedly referenced his officers' thorough inspections of his bed-making ability -- helped shape a work ethic that eventually fostered a career in entertainment ... ‘I have learned if you’re going to make this bed, you’re going to make it so you can bounce the quarter off of it,’ he said. ‘If you're going to sweep, mop, dry, you're going to make it as perfect as you can -- to be proud of it,’ Cosby said.”
As a young Sailor, after recruit training at Naval Training Center, Bainbridge, Maryland, Cosby served at Quantico, Virginia and at Bethesda Naval Hospital, Md., working as a Navy Corpsman to help Korean War veterans. Aboard USS Fort Mandan (LSD 21) he served along the East Coast, down to Guantanamo Bay, before being assigned to Philadelphia Naval Hospital.
He excelled at several sports on Navy and Marine Corps teams and pursued his education, earning his high school diploma while on active duty and attending Temple University after the Navy, before discovering the joys (and rewards) of comedy/entertainment, including on the barrier-breaking “I Spy” show.
|SECNAV Mabus praises a "tireless advocate." (Photo by MC2 Jason M. Graham)|
Bill Cosby has since earned his doctor of education degree from the University of Massachusetts. In 2010 the Navy Memorial honored Bill Cosby with its Lone Sailor Award for his lifetime achievement. In 2011, then-MCPON Rick West and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recognized him as an honorary Chief Petty Officer.
"Bill Cosby is not just a comedian and an actor, although he's pretty good at both, he's also been a tireless advocate for social responsibility and education - and a constant friend to the Navy," said Mabus. "Last year was the highest compliment I've ever received - being made an honorary chief petty officer, and now Dr. Cosby - you're about to get the same honor."
Dr. Bill Cosby’s career and conduct have honored the legacy and inspiration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Cosby includes more than a half-dozen quotes or references to King in “Come On People.” Cosby recognizes King’s sacrifice for equality, civil rights, education, health care, voting rights and commitment to families. Like King, he reinforces the need for dignity and discipline, responsibility and accountability.
Cosby is in Washington D.C. this week during the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Like the rest of us, he’s contemplating King and what’s now known as the “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Monument. Cosby was 26 at the time of the speech.
|Dr. King addresses what John Lewis called "a sea of humanity," Aug. 28, 1963.|
Historian and biographer Taylor Branch wrote in “Parting the Waters”: “The emotional command of his oratory gave King authority to reinterpret the core intuition of democratic justice. More than his words, the timbre of his voice projected him across the racial divide and planted him as a new founding father.”
Time Magazine’s cover this week is emblazoned with Branch’s words about King: “Founding Father.”
With the “dignity and discipline” King called for, Bill Cosby, father, grandfather, son and Navy Chief, teaches generations how to pursue and realize Dr. King’s dream, “deeply rooted in the American Dream.”