Comedian Bill Cosby joined forces Sunday with a conservative organization, The Independent Women's Forum (IWF), for a live event and MSNBC program titled "About Our Children. . ." (View the MSNBC teaser here
). IWF President Michelle Bernard hosted the event, which was held at Howard University and featured a panel of education and parenting experts, including Alvin Poussaint, psychiatry professor at Harvard University; NAACP President Ben Jealous; and Michelle Rhee, chancellor of the D.C. public schools.
"I want people to think back on history and realize that there is truly nothing that we can't do," Bernard said. "Today is just the first day of what will be a national grass-roots mobilization effort, where we will gather parents and children to really take the bull by the horns to do everything that we can to ensure that every child has a shot at the American dream."
The unquestioned star of the event was Cosby, and while he has consistently advocated for individual responsibility and higher education standards, this event marked the first time the comedian and TV legend officially teamed with a conservative organization. That was fitting, because his tough-love message to parents is one a conservative could truly embrace. Cosby took direct aim at parents who can't be bothered to get involved in their child's school.
"Outside of your house, and even in the TV sets, we can't trust those people to tell our children correct things or to give them love," he said. "You've got to go visit the schoolteacher. Someone is spending six to seven hours with your child, and you don't want to know who it is?"
According to IWF's Web site, its mission is to "rebuild civil society by advancing economic liberty, personal responsibility, and political freedom." The site goes on to state that "IWF builds support for a greater respect for limited government, equality under the law, property rights, free markets, strong families, and a powerful and effective national defense and foreign policy."
Cosby, of course, is the longtime actor, funnyman and wise social critic behind such TV hits as "Fat Albert" and "The Cosby Show," where he played physician and family man Cliff Huxtable. Some political commentators, including former White House adviser Karl Rove, have credited "The Cosby Show" -- which debuted 25 years ago this year -- with helping change Americans' attitudes on race, ultimately making it possible for Barack Obama to become the first African-American president in 2008.
But Cosby has also been a political iconoclast, often blaming "hip-hop culture" and black parents for perpetuating problems plaguing the African-American community. In 2004, he rekindled a spirited national debate with remarks made as he accepted an award from the NAACP during a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.
"These people who marched and were hit in the face with rocks and punched in the face to get an education, and we got these knuckleheads walking around who don't want to learn English," Cosby said that night.
"I know that you all know it. I just want to get you as angry [as] you ought to be. When you walk around the neighborhood and you see this stuff, that stuff's not funny. These people are not funny anymore. . . They don't want to accept that they have to study to get an education."
In recent weeks, Cosby has not shied away from commenting on current events -- from his predictably unpredictable iconoclastic viewpoint. Last week, he made news on Twitter
, when he Tweeted: "I agree with President Carter that racism is playing a role in recent outbursts against President Obama." On the other hand, Cosby had also pronounced himself "shocked" to hear President Obama publicly weigh-in on the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.
But Cosby is at his most effective when he challenges black parents directly. Three weeks ago, he was in Detroit, lending his support to an extraordinary effort by officials there to go door to door to persuade parents to keep their children in the city's dwindling public school system. "We've got to really speak to parents -- in a way they can understand -- that the prison system is smiling, waiting on your child," Cosby said.
A week later at Cheyney University, a historically black college in Pennsylvania, Cosby said, "We lose our children . . . children shooting and killing each other. It doesn't make sense. There's no one home giving them directions and corrections and love."