Bill Cosby and his wife, Camille, have given untold millions of dollars to colleges and universities over the years, and promoting education for African-Americans has been a hallmark of the comedian’s legendary career.
In an exclusive interview with the Black Press, Cosby shared why education has remained an important part of his life’s mission.
When he entered Temple University as a freshman, Cosby’s low SAT scores placed him in remedial English, he said.
“In this beginning of my new life, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. After reading the books assigned to me, I noticed that what was missing were my experiences and I felt in my heart and mind that I needed to put to paper my personal experiences,” Cosby said. “Hence, my first piece from the assignment, ‘Write About the First Time You Ever Did Something.’”
Cosby said that his family ate in the kitchen and he kept his books and pencils in his mother’s dining room. A pencil sharpener hung on the wall.
“[The pencil sharpener] was allowed to be drilled into the wall in my mother’s $5,000 house, because I was in college,” said Cosby.
Cosby said that when he sat down at his mother’s dining room table, he rejected the subject of all of his other firsts—first touchdown, first kiss, first whipping—and he began to write about the first time that he pulled his own tooth.
Cosby said that, at school one day, a professor entered the classroom where Whites made up 97 percent of the class, and announced, “I want you all to hear this because this is the kind of thing I am looking for.”
Cosby sat there, he said, as the professor began to read his paper about the first time that he pulled his own tooth to the rest of the class.
“I got an A-plus,” he said. “So, with that success, I remember feeling like I was doing something that I enjoyed, something I saw, something I felt, not about being called a name or being segregated or having some negative play on my color.”
Cosby said that the next essay that he wrote was called “Procrastination” or “The Search for The Perfect Point on My Pencil.”
The paper chronicled how Cosby didn’t want to get started on the piece, but how he used the pencil sharpener with the No. 2 pencil that had a rose-colored eraser on the end.
He kept sharpening the pencil, because he wanted a perfect point.
His professor read that paper aloud, too, helping Cosby to understand that he could accomplish great things even without encouragement.
“Regarding Black America…we were very seldom acknowledged for doing things that are identifiable as commonalities amongst all races, cultures and religions … and humanity, worldwide,” Cosby said. “There are millions of success stories and all of them speak to the parents or guardians and their love and what they want for their children. Many parents or guardians have the ability to teach their children and guide them towards education.”
Cosby continued: “When a child cannot understand something and a parent or guardian sits to help that child, the child will move from disliking learning to having a love for learning.”
It was his own love for learning that sparked his philanthropic efforts in education.
“Since 1965, we have paid for the education of thousands of students, mostly low-income African-American students, … and never asked for any repayments from them…so they were not in debt after their graduations,” Cosby said. “Keep in mind that Mrs. Cosby and I aren’t a huge conglomerate; we just wanted to help people to get an education.”
Since 2014, when dozens of women accused him of misconduct, colleges and universities have severed their relationship with the star.
Spelman College axed a professorship that the Cosbys had funded ($20 million) since the 1980s; Franklin and Marshall College, Goucher College and Tufts University rescinded honorary degrees given to Cosby.
He also voluntarily stepped down from his seat on the board of trustees at Temple University.
Officials from Temple University and Spelman College declined to comment for this story.
While the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress seem indifferent to — some advocates would say opposed to — the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Cosby remains adamant that ESSA and other education laws designed to assist all students are still very important.
“I never did like the ‘No Child Left Behind’ law, because people used it to move those children who were behind forward, but the child’s mind was still left behind,” he said. “Once people realize that this is done on purpose, as things are, they realize that it’s up to them to be steadfast and make sure that their child is being educated.”
Finally, in recalling schools in his hometown of Philadelphia, Cosby noted that those who constructed those buildings must have believed in the importance of education. However, an uncaring and unfair educational system has gone against what those builders intended, he said.
“I remember how sad many of my neighborhood friends were, that their high schools were shut down, so that only one-fifth of the schools were being used, because the neighborhoods around them were subjected to a system that was intentionally and confusingly complex, thus, effectively discouraging the children from learning,” Cosby said. “Moreover, the system was disrespectful and condescending to the parents; particularly in low-income communities, regardless of race or ethnicity.”