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BY TOM MITSOFF
Parents who don't protect their children from corrupting forces are major contributors to the societal breakdown occurring in some segments of the African-American community, according to comic legend Bill Cosby.
The 68-year-old made his first appearance in Cincinnati since before the 2001 riots Thursday at Xavier University's Cintas Center in one in a series of "Call Out" appearances he is making nationally.
The meetings are designed to address difficult issues facing black communities.
Cosby made no direct mention of the riots Thursday, nor of the shooting a day earlier of black activist Kabaka Oba in front of City Hall.
His message to the predominantly African-American crowd was that many parents are failing miserably to shield their children from people and influences that can do them harm.
"You leave a child unprotected when you leave a child to figure out things on his or her own that adults should be deciding for them," Cosby told the crowd.
Examples he cited: not asking children where they are going and who they are going with, not quizzing children about what they are learning in school, and not stepping in to keep daughters from "dressing up like prostitutes."
He asked how many people in the audience had had a relative shot and killed, and about 10 people in the crowd of about 1,500 stood.
More people stood when he asked how many had been left to care for a brother or sister's child, and more still when he asked to see grandparents who had wound up caring for young children unexpectedly.
In reference to the sharp rise in shootings locally, the comedian said each black-on-black homicide involving children is a double tragedy because "you've lost two black people with the potential to become the president of the United States someday."
The continuing breakdown of the African-American family in some communities can be attributed in part to many young black males' failure to graduate from high school or college, Cosby said. That has ramifications that go beyond individual failures, he said.
Often, when young African-American girls get pregnant, the father is someone who hasn't graduated or won't, or maybe is serving time in prison, he said.
And once he gets out of prison as a convicted felon, he is unable to vote and will have difficulty finding work. That contributes to the continuing cycle of the lack of protection for young children, Cosby said.
"Because of the lack of protection, many times these children have stopped learning by the third grade," he said. "Eventually they give up, and you get a whole bunch of excuses from them about why they are the way they are."
Cosby often used strong language during his talk, challenging blacks in attendance to stop applying to themselves a pejorative for the word, "Negro."
"Why are we the only race to sit up and dance to a word that was used when our ancestors were being hanged?" he said, referring to the frequent use of the word in hip-hop music lyrics.
He also criticized the current fashion of wearing pants very low on the hips.
"It is so stupid to design clothes after the way people wear things in prison," Cosby said. "People are behaving abnormally, and trying to make it normal, and that is insane."
Among those on the stage for the program with Cosby was Terry Thomas, younger brother of Timothy Thomas, whose death at the hands of a white police officer sparked several nights of rioting in April 2001.
"At that time (2001), I was just 16 and just got out of jail, and I was looking up to (Timothy) for guidance," Terry Thomas said. "When I lost him, then I was lost."
But he said he is working on turning his life around by working two jobs and going to school.
"I've done a lot in my life, and I've seen a lot," Thomas said. "I can't say that I've never seen a gang-banging, and I can't say that I haven't been around people selling drugs, but I can say that I am here today and that I am trying to better myself."
Cosby canceled two 2002 appearances in downtown Cincinnati, and organizers of a boycott of downtown - who said they were trying to force city leaders to pay more attention to police, racial and economic issues - claimed it was in response to their urging him not to come.
But Cosby's publicist, Joel Brokaw, said the entertainer canceled his shows because he "felt it was both inappropriate and insensitive to come into Cincinnati and do comedy when there were so many serious issues."
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