Comedian Bill Cosby Monday urged Hartford school parents in a packed auditorium at Bulkeley High School to reach out to their missing peers: the parents who never show up at meetings, the people who aren't around for their children.
In a speech that mirrored many of his lectures around the country about respect, responsibility and accountability, Cosby, 71, focused mostly on education and the power it gives people stuck in cycles of poverty and violence.
"Homework saves your child from being out there where danger is," Cosby said. "When are we going to accept that? And why does a mayor have to call on the cops to take your child to your place? That's taking the village a little too far."
"It takes a village to raise a child" was a common theme at Monday night's forum, which included a panel of city leaders and community members. In a culture where fathers are absent, teenagers are having babies and people are depressed and withdrawn, Cosby said, the community needs to take responsibility.
Take the curse words out of your mouths, and the guns out of your homes, Cosby told the crowd. Know what your children are doing and who they are hanging out with. Be there for them. Read to them.
The message is universal. But it really hits home in Hartford.
The violence and callousness didn't start with the hit-and-run — caught on videotape — that permanently crippled Angel Arce Torres. And it didn't end there.
Since then, gunmen opened fire on a crowd of parade-goers. A man stabbed his girlfriend to death in her home. A man leaving a crowded party was fatally shot, while others dove for cover.
It's in the news. It's out there that Hartford is suffering. And while Cosby responded to those incidents by offering his time to the city, he saw something else here, too, event organizers said.
"He saw there was a need, but also saw a willingness and a readiness of leaders and people in the community to address that need," said Ted Carroll, the president of Leadership Greater Hartford, which hosted Monday's forum as part of its Hartford Cares project.
Cosby was here in July, talking to community members at Faith Seventh-day Adventist Church on Woodland Street. That speech was organized by Steve D. Perry, the principal at Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, who is an acquaintance of Cosby.
When Cosby saw that Hartford had to enact a curfew for its youth after a series of shootings this summer, he called Mayor Eddie Perez and said he wanted to come back.
Monday, on top of his serious message and some laughs, Cosby got members of the community talking about their hopes.
Ebony Hass, a junior at Bulkeley High School, wished that all her classmates would graduate, go on to college and become role models. Luis Rodriguez, a Hartford Public High School graduate and University of Connecticut student, wished that parents would be there for their children. Parent Mayra Esquilin wished to have large groups of parents attend board meetings that affect their children.
"We all know it takes a village to raise our children," said Gayle Allen-Green, the principal of Bulkeley High School and a member of the panel. "Somewhere along the line we all forgot that. ... I wish the parents, students, teachers, know we can't do it alone. It takes all of us."
Willie Mann, a Hartford resident who said he met Cosby at a sandwich shop in Hartford a couple of years ago, said he was impressed by the speech.
"He touched upon our frailties, talked about our own weaknesses," Mann said. "Of course we laughed about them, but we have to make them stronger to make this work."
"Homework saves your child from being out there where danger is. When are we going to accept that? And why does a mayor have to call on the cops to take your child to your place? That's taking the village a little too far." Bill Cosby, speaking to Hartford parents.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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