'Pound Cake' Speech Today: Was Bill Cosby Right?

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As lawmakers prepare to debate extending former President George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act," comedian Bill Cosby is calling on them to give parents more options when it comes to public education.

Being a champion for education is not a role most people are accustomed to seeing Cosby perform. He's spent his life on stage and on television making America laugh, especially in his most popular role as Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable on the hit sitcom, "The Cosby Show."

But the comedian has had his share of serious moments. People are still talking about Cosby's famous "pound cake speech" given seven years ago. Now, there's a third book about those comments made while speaking at the NAACP's 50th Anniversary celebration of Brown v. Board of Education.

In the speech, Cosby blasted people in poor, black communities for failing to be good parents, spending hundreds on designer shoes, but refusing to invest in helping children improve their reading or speak standard English. His reference to pound cake stuck with listeners.

"Looking at the incarcerated, these are not political criminals. These are people going around stealing Coca Cola. People getting shot in the back of the head over a piece of pound cake," Cosby told the crowd.

Read the entire speech here.

"This is the future," he later added. "And all of these people (civil rights activists) who lined up... these people who marched and were hit in the face with rocks and were punched in the face to get an education, and we have these knuckle heads walking around who don't want to learn English."

Reaction to Cosby's Speech

The NAACP was honoring John Stokes for his role as one of the plaintiffs in the Supreme Court litigation that ended school segregation. He said there people in the audience who were "very angry" with Cosby's comments.

"When Mr. Cosby got up you could hear a pin drop it was so quiet," Stokes

told CBN News. "And once he made the statement, individuals showed quite a bit of discomfort. I got up and clapped."

Cosby heard more criticism than applause from many in the black community. A year after the speech, scholar Michael Eric Dyson published the book, Is Bill Cosby Right? Or Has the Middle Class Lost its Mind? Cosby and his longtime friend Alvin Poussaint then wrote a follow-up called, Come on People.

"We came up with 'Come On People,' which is an action title -- 'Come on People, On the Path from Victim to Victors,'" said Poussaint, who is an author and psychiatrist. "We wanted to emphasize what people could do for themselves."

A Sermon of Responsibility?

The latest voice in the continuing conversation is the book, Bill Cosby is Right, But What Should the Church Be Doing About It?

The book's author is a journalist and Bill Cosby's distant cousin, Merisa Parson Davis.

Davis' book points out startling statistics that haven't improved since Cosby's 2004 speech. She says:

  • Homicide is still the leading cause of death for black boys ages 12 to 19.
  • One out of three black men ages 20-29 are under some form of criminal justice supervision.
  • And while there is a black family living in The White House, only 28 percent of black children are growing up with a mother and father in the home.

Davis spoke with CBN News on the campus of Liberty University, where she studied journalism and theology.

"God instituted the family before He instituted the church," Davis said. "If you have weak families in your church, your church will be weak. If you have strong families in your church, then your church will be strong."

Davis called Cosby's speech a sermon about responsibility -- an opinion shared by world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson.

A Mind for Success

Carson and Cosby have discussed many of the issues outlined in his famous speech.

"What Bill Cosby is talking about, values and principles, [are] things that lead to the development of solid families and solid communities," Carson said.

"And many of those things have been attacked, probably more so today than ever because we live in an atmosphere of political correctness," he added.

The faith, values, and principles that propelled Carson to success are documented in the film about his life, "Gifted Hands." As a child, he faced many of the odds poor, black children endure today. He grew up in urban Detroit, poor, and without a father.

"I had a mother who refused to be a victim," Carson said. "[She] totally would not accept a 'feel-sorry-for-myself' attitude. And would not let us do that either."

As a brain surgeon, Carson is quick to point out success is not a matter of money, it's a mindset.

"You basically determine your value to society by what you know and by what you can do. And that is something you have control over," he explained. "How much knowledge do I want to acquire? How much skill do I want to acquire?"

Pound Cake Today

Dr. Carson says Cosby's pound cake speech still holds true today, and not only for African Americans, but all Americans.

Cosby ended his speech saying, "When you go to the church, look at the stained glass images of Jesus. Look at them. Is Jesus smiling? Not in one picture."

"So tell your friends, let's try and do something," he said. "Let's try and make Jesus smile. Let's start parenting."

--Originally published Feb. 16, 2011.

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Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.