Cosby Scolds Idle Churchgoers

Bill Cosby raises a fist in agreement with Audrey Sutton, left. The panel also included Lauren Lake and Sandra Lawson.
Bill Cosby raises a fist in agreement with Audrey Sutton, left. The panel also included Lauren Lake and Sandra Lawson. (Photos By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By Paul Schwartzman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Entertainer Bill Cosby yesterday chastised churchgoers who preach religion but fail to confront problems that plague their communities.

Speaking at the University of the District of Columbia, Cosby emphasized the importance of social responsibility and urged his audience to keep a vigilant eye on their children. The District is one stop on a nationwide speaking tour that has taken the controversial comedian to 18 cities over the past year and a half.

His appearance in Washington came almost two years to the day after he took the stage of Constitution Hall and triggered a contentious national debate when he criticized poor African Americans for speaking ungrammatically and failing to raise children properly.

Cosby made no mention of those remarks yesterday. But he continued his message that salvation lies within communities, rather than outside.

"I have no problem with Jesus or God," he said in the afternoon as he addressed an audience that included many foster parents and grandparents and social service providers. "I have a problem with people sitting there and saying that Jesus and God will find the way. I have a problem with Christian men who won't dress up and go down and confront the drug dealers."

"I got a problem," Cosby added, "with people not knowing where the gun is hid and that the child has one."

The two-hour afternoon appearance was largely subdued, except for the end, when a self-described community activist accused the comedian of hosting a "watered-down dialogue" and invoked the name of Michael Eric Dyson, an author who has derided Cosby's critique of low-income blacks.

"You don't deserve an audience with me," Cosby said, climbing down from the stage, walking over to the man, Chris Crowder, who was seated in a wheelchair, and looming over him.

"I'm not afraid of any Mr. Dyson," Cosby told Crowder before turning and returning to the stage. "Mr. Dyson is not a truthful man."

Cosby has taken his "Call Out" tour across the country, appearing in 18 cities, including New York, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland and Baltimore.

His UDC appearance, which was sponsored by the Washington Association of Black Journalists, featured testimonials from social service officials, education leaders and a woman in recovery from alcoholism who became a foster parent.

During a second session last night, the panel included D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, who warned of rising juvenile crime, and the District's chief coroner, who said that from 1982 to 2005, nearly 1,000 homicide victims were ages 16 to 19.

The coroner, Marie-Lydie Y. Pierre-Louis, issued a warning to teenagers who don't get their diploma: "There's one waiting for you at the office of the medical examiner. It's a death certificate."

Taking the microphone, Cosby told audience members that he encouraged Pierre-Louis to deliver the grim numbers so they "would understand that it has to be stopped."

To those who ignore their children, Cosby said: "I'm calling you out, and I'm holding you accountable. If you're having a problem, visit the Jesus in your heart."

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