Bill Cosby delivers blunt message to community leaders

May 1, 2008 5:47:42 PM PDT
Bill Cosby told several hundred people at a conference of community associations Thursday to stand up and confront the ills facing black Americans. Repeating a mantra that has angered some black leaders who have accused him of downplaying the effects of long-term discrimination, he exhorted the audience several times to "stop looking for somebody to blame."

Characterizing his own words as "blunt, but not harsh," the 70-year-old comedian criticized a culture in which "babies are wearing $40 sneakers while their mothers are feeding them Oodles of Noodles."

Cosby deemed some of his critics "intellectual panhandlers" who enable destructive behavior by staying silent or blaming racism.

"You've got these idiots who've got these degrees and some of them are ordained ministers and they say, `Bill, you're picking on the poor,"' he said. He then drew laughs by adding, "Well, so did Jesus then. Jesus was always telling someone, `Go ye.' Jesus was always telling people to go somewhere. And `don't do this again or don't do that again."'

Wearing a sweater with a Yale University logo in honor of Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker, a Yale Law School graduate, Cosby saved some of most pointed words for radio stations that play music that he called "pro-murder and anti-women" and said adults are equally complicit if they fail to speak up.

"I haven't seen the demonstrations saying, `I'm not allowing my children to listen to this," he said. "It's killing us. We're not talking about it, and we're not beating it down."

The longtime performer, whose sitcom "The Cosby Show" was top-rated in the 1980s, has recorded a hip-hop album set for release next month. "Cosby Narratives Vol. 1: State of Emergency" blends his concepts and stories with a hip-hop, pop and jazz soundtrack.

Thursday's conference was hosted by Family Intervention Services and Newark Now, an organization formed by Booker.

The mayor called Cosby "a critical voice right now in the American context" and praised his willingness to speak out on issues without bowing to political correctness.

"This is a time for candor - we can't beat around the bush," Booker said. "We've got large percentages of our population that are underachieving. He's speaking to the heart of the matter, and he speaks to the realities of what a lot of folks are experiencing."