In their recently published book that speaks critically of black America, authors Bill Cosby and Alvin Poussaint offer up a bleak analysis on the state of affairs in this national community. “Come on People” cites damning statistics that arguably reveal how often blacks are failing to make a meaningful contribution.
Seventy percent of black babies are born to single women. Black males have a high school drop out rate of more than 50 percent in some cities, and blacks make up 44 percent of the prison population in this country while comprising only 12 percent of the total population.
Although that kind of analysis is hard for the black community to hear-again-what has made the book controversial is the proposal Cosby and Poussaint present to address the situation. They are exhorting the African American community to stop blaming whites and the various political and governmental systems for their problems, and to start taking responsibility for becoming victors instead of victims.
For this story, the Review asked nine of Forest Park’s church and civic leaders, all black, to respond to Cosby’s criticisms and offer their take on the state of black America.
“I hope that the issues Bill Cosby raises are not seen as a negative on him,” Rev. Dwight Bailey said. “He is only saying out loud what a lot of people are saying in their living rooms and around their dinner tables.”
Bailey is the pastor of the Austin Boulevard Christian Church in Oak Park and lives in Forest Park. For all the dust that Cosby has kicked up with “Come on People,” Bailey said the book’s bottom line should not be too surprising.
“The book is not really an eye opener for African Americans,” Rev. Bill Teague, the pastor of Hope Tabernacle Community Church, said.
All nine agreed with Cosby and Poussaint that black families need to be strengthened, that children need to speak proper English, that black people need to stop degrading themselves by using the N-word, and that African Americans should get out of debt and take more responsibility for their lives. The community members contacted for this story were unanimous in their general assessments of Cosby’s book, but each had specific criticisms.
Rev. James Francis, for example, said that the book’s values apply not only to the black community but to every other American as well.
“Our African American young men have not seen a genuine example of what a father should be in the home, but to make this statement only touch our African American young men limits our other American ethnicities from their opportunity of getting some help in this area of lack as well,” Francis said.
Ernie Hines, a Christian song writer, producer and artist, said Americans of every background could stand to make improvements. Rory Hoskins, the village’s first black commissioner, said Cosby’s theme of community action applies across all races.
“Indeed, it takes a village to raise a child, and sick villages raise sick children,” Hoskins said.
Hines reacted negatively to the book’s statement that blacks often “sedate themselves” by “waiting for Jesus to come and help them.”
“I take exception to the fact that the writers include the name of Jesus so callously,” Hines said. “For me and for Christians all around the world Jesus is not some pie-in-sky fantasy. He is as real as the air we breathe.”
Ron Riley, who chairs the Lay Ministry Board at St. John Lutheran Church, rephrased the book’s comments about sex and single parenting.
“I think Dr. Cosby and Dr. Poussaint are right-on in the need for parents to take better control of their children and for young black men and women to become more responsible in their encounters with each other,” Riley said. “No sex, or at the very least, safe sex. Young men and women who are in their early teens are not ready to become parents.”
Sean Blaylock, vice president of the District 91 Board of Education, agreed with Cosby and Poussaint’s emphasis on the use of proper English. He argued that people tend to be judged on their ability to use words, and children must learn to communicate well.
“Parents and teachers must take the lead in arming our children … with this skill,” Blaylock said.
Staying with the theme of language, Blaylock spoke for all the other respondents in condemning the use of the N-word, calling it a “poison which can cause significant, long lasting damage.”
Devin Love-Andrews, a member of St. John Lutheran Church, liked the book’s tone. In fact, he seemed to want to amplify its message.
“Bill Cosby, in his caring albeit blunt tone, is telling African Americans what they have needed to hear for a long time: slavery is over,” Love-Andrews said. “If the African American ethnic group is to survive, our people must stop holding their hands out for entitlements, stop complaining about the past, and start looking out for themselves.”
In the same manner, Love-Andrews took a shot at what he called liberal African American leaders, charging that they “consolidate their power by making sure their people remember how oppressed they are.”
Riley sees the issue a little differently from his fellow parishioner, saying that although blacks have made advances and have secured jobs in Fortune 500 companies, in general they still have to worker harder and do better than their white counterparts to advance up the corporate ladder.
Francis, however, is critical of the book’s tone.
“Mr. Cosby is for the most part an entertainer with a strong opinion and a strategy that may not touch the masses of whom he is trying to heal because of his lack of compassion,” Francis said. “I am speaking about a step of discernment that must be taken to find out why a person does what they do, because everyone is not doing the same thing for the same reason.”
Taking still another view on the book’s tone, Hoskins said Cosby was being provocative on purpose in order to stimulate discussion within the black community.
Many of the respondents emphasized that laundry listing problems without offering proposals to improve the situation leads nowhere, and only reinforces the mentality of having been victimized. Blaylock charged churches with the mission of leading the effort to turn things around, particularly regarding the role of men.
“We need to benchmark what the productive African American males in our society are doing and use this as a starting point for what may help those that are struggling,” Blaylock said. “This will be a blue print for the churches serving our communities. The churches … have the best opportunity to produce change. I pray that the churches accept the challenge.”