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A Conversation with Bill Cosby Celebrates Brown at 50

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Bill Cosby talks to ninth graders at Riverside Church to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

Bill Cosby talks to ninth graders at Riverside Church to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education

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In collaboration with New York City public schools Region 10, Teachers College hosted an event which brought 500 ninth grade students to Riverside Church to hear entertainer and educator Bill Cosby as part of a semester-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that made segregation illegal in this country. Cosby spoke to the group about the importance of that decision to the educational opportunities of the young people present.

"I have heard you all mention, ‘back in the day,'" he told them. "If you were back in the day, you didn't know what the answer was going to be. I want you to understand that you are sitting here, and your ability to go forward, is because of back in the day."

He spoke to them about appreciation-appreciation for the people who care about them and who are raising them, and appreciation for the fact that they can get an education. They might complain, he said, of being bored in school. To that he challenged them, "Take that education. Don't tell me it's boring. You're going to be boring in about 10 years, and you may be boring while you're sitting in a cell, because you decided to do something that breaks the law. Why? Because you couldn't get a job. Why? Because you didn't want to give yourself a chance. Why? Because you don't like yourself."

"You have to build on tomorrow today," he admonished them. "Some of the greatest people you will ever meet and never forget are right here. Not Bill Cosby." He explained, "You have teachers sitting here who love you to death. These people are not drafted. They have volunteered themselves to look at young faces and give them information. You want to make a teacher happy? Be prepared in school."

"It is important," he said, "to see what your teachers are trying to give you and you have to take it. Brown v. Board of Education is about people of all colors arguing about your future so you could have the opportunity to sit, study and move forward."

The conversation with Bill Cosby was the first of a series of events celebrating the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, which will include the presentation on April 1st of the Teachers College Medal For Distinguished Service to Education to Ruby Bridges Hall. In 1960, Hall became one of the first African Americans to attend an integrated school, and was escorted by federal marshals to the William Frantz Public School in New Orleans, Louisiana, to begin first grade during a time of heavy opposition and protest. Today, Bridges is founder of the Ruby Bridges Foundation, which she launched in the hopes of "bringing parents back into the schools and taking a more active role in their children's education."

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