Comedian Bill Cosby returned to Hartford on Monday night for the second time since July to share his views on responsible parenting, education, hope, and empowerment.
The 71-year-old actor-turned motivational speaker offered some blunt comments about the need to teach children about the dangers of having sex – and maybe more of his comments were directed at young women than young men – but despite his language, the message appeared to be well taken by parents, teachers, and teens alike.
“There is no woman who has ever died because they didn’t have sex,” Cosby said. “And there is no boy who has ever died or had a bad orgasm from wearing a rubber.”
Cosby also said that young women aren’t getting “pregnant.” Rather, he said, “they’re getting knocked up.”
The nearly full Bulkeley High School auditorium seemed to eat up his message.
“If you’re not sharing dinners and breakfasts,” you’re not acting like a family, Cosby said, adding that parents have to tell their daughters that if they get pregnant, they’re going to get off track in life.
“And for God’s sake, if you don’t know how to do that, then find somebody who can,” Cosby shouted. He talked about how, in the past, when a family was in trouble, the community would have a meeting and no one would leave until there was a solution. He said that needs to happen again, and he echoed the comments of Hartford parent Mayra Esquilin, who was a member of Monday’s panel. Esquilin had shared her wish that more parents would attend PTO, school board, and city council meetings that involve public policy related to the well-being of their children.
Cosby, of Fat Albert and Cliff Huxtable fame, has morphed his acting career in recent years into a motivational tour designed to help communities struggling with the cycle of poverty to take control of their destinies. Hillary Clinton’s famous “it takes a village” theme was woven throughout Cosby’s and other speakers’ comments throughout the evening.
Cosby last spoke in Hartford in July at the Seventh Day Adventist Church, before the gunfight that broke out on crowded Main Street shortly after the West Indian Day parade. Since then and up until recently, the city had enforced a curfew to try to minimize the youth-driven gun violence on the streets. According to Mayor Eddie Perez’s office, that shooting and the steps the city took afterward were some of the reasons Cosby opted to return so soon.
But Cosby told the crowd that Monday’s event was special to him because it was held at a school.
“This is probably one of the best feeling moments I have had traveling around this country,” Cosby said, adding that he usually speaks in churches or community centers. To be speaking in a building constructed for education is special, he said, because he believes education is the path to success for everyone.
“School, back in my day, was a place where you sent your children there, and they learned,” Cosby said. “They came home and you’d read to them.”
Among the stories Cosby told to the audience of about 3,000 was one of presidential candidate Barack Obama’s. Cosby said Obama has talked about how his single mother would wake him at 4:30 a.m. to help him with his homework. He was 8 years old.
“Let’s get this right,” she told him.
Cosby said Obama said he’d let his mother know he was angry about it. But she stuck with it and said, “This isn’t much fun for me either.”
Cosby said Obama’s mother, who has since passed, didn’t know she was talking to the man who might later be the next president of the United States. But until he learned, Cosby said, Obama’s mother was going to be his “worst nightmare,” adding that she stayed on him.
“Children need to be stayed on,” Cosby said. “They don’t need to be out at 9 or 10 o’clock at night, riding their bike on the street.” Homework, Cosby said, “keeps your child from being out there where the danger is. When are we going to accept that?”
Referring to Hartford’s curfew, which city officials say is no longer being actively enforced after success during the summer months, Cosby said that having the mayor call police out to bring people’s children home is “taking the village a little too far.”
“You’ve got to lock them up in your own house,” Cosby said. “You’ve got an 11, 12, or 13 year old daughter. Fourteen. She’s got no business not knowing the dangers of having sex.
“That baby is yours for the rest of your life,” Cosby told the crowd, adding that girls that age are completely unprepared to be parents. “You’ve got to have a job. You can’t go with minimum wage. Your babysitter’s going to make more than minimum wage.”
Fatherhood was also a central theme in Cosby’s talk. He said fathers once acted as the family’s gatekeeper, whose role was to protect daughters from boys. That message hits home in Hartford, where fatherlessness is chronic and its impact is immeasurable.
Cosby said he’s been at events where little girls would grab his leg and ask if they could go home with him.
“They didn’t want to go home with me,” he said. “They wanted to go home with Theo’s father. She wants to play with Rudy.”
Cosby said young girls are feeling bad because they think their father is gone because of them, and he urged young women “not to put that on yourself.”
Bulkeley High senior Ja’shell Smith said she appreciated that Cosby’s talked about real world issues, adding that she’s lucky that she has a father at home. She estimates that only about 6 out of 100 of her classmates have a father in their lives.
“If this is a village, we’ve got work to do,” Cosby said.
Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez, who kept in touch with Cosby since meeting him in July, said that the comedian really seemed to connect with parents and students Monday.
“Today he brought his A game,” Perez said.
At the end of the evening Ben Cruse of Leadership Greater Hartford, the lead sponsor of Monday’s event presented Cosby with a “Hartford Cares” sweatshirt.