Old time TV fans are thrilled with the news that Dr. Huxtable, AKA Bill Cosby, is plotting a return to television. We can only speculate that an irritable and loveable grandfather character is in the works. And admirers can watch his new act starting on Comedy Central this past weekend.
Lucky for some of us in Washington, DC we saw him recently in person as the Master of Ceremonies at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund’s 25th Awards Gala. Dr. Bill Cosby at 76 was in perfect form as the hilarious MC for this worthy organization.
In August of this year, the head of the Fund, Johnny Taylor, participated with me on the education panel at “Reflections on Jewish and African American Civil Rights Alliances,” a conference co-sponsored by the Ciesla Foundation.
Johnny Taylor and Bill Cosby at the TMCF Gala
In a traditional vaudeville-like bit, Cosby set up the Fund’s staff person, budding actor Christopher Lopez, as his straight man. Lopez, thinking he was just handing the comedian notes on the script backstage, found himself right next to Cosby onstage and answering his comic questions. Just like in the old days of comedy, the two entertained the jam-packed audience with their exchanges.
Lopez described how the “entire night was unscripted.” He said “my role was to be the innocent, sweet handler/stage manager (this is why in the beginning of the night, I came out with my active headset on) and he said he will be Bill Cosby.” Cosby’s concept worked and a star was born.
The organization itself supports rising stars. The Thurgood Marshall College Fund offers African American students merit and need-based scholarships to attend public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). TMCF has made a huge difference providing scholarships to needy students since 1987.
Remember the Rosenwald Fund also supported such HBCU institutions like Tuskegee, Fisk and Dillard.
Especially gratifying to see were the young students dressed to the nines and sprinkled at tables throughout the Washington Hilton Hall. Two gave moving testimonies of how important their scholarships were to them.
Civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis was also there signing autographs in his latest book, graphic novel March. An extra special treat was a free copy of his book as well as a big chocolate kiss as door prizes. Soviet expert Susan Eisenhower was also in attendance.
Also speaking was the tiara wearing, gorgeous new Miss America, Nina Davuluri, who plans to attend medical school after her reign. She admitted to entering the contest because there was a scholarship that comes along with the crown. The first Indian American to win the beauty contest, Davuluri is destined for a great future.
In a scene right out of another classic TV favorite, The Millionaire, Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup and Chairman of TMCF’s board, announced during the dinner a grant of one million dollars to the organization. He explained that it was his wife Susan who impressed upon him the need to give generously to the scholarship fund. This kind of spontaneous giving makes for many future Cinderella college tales and reminds us of Julius Rosenwald’s giving.
The Fund’s President Johnny Taylor was beaming from the dais. He described why Cosby was the perfect master of ceremonies. “Dr. Cosby’s commitment to higher education generally, and HBCUs in particular, is unmatched. He and his straight man, Christopher Lopez (a former TMCF Leadership Institute Scholar), entertained the crowd and helped us raise $3.8 million to support publicly-supported HBCUs and their deserving Student Scholars.”
Washington attorney and film producer Thomas Hart, the Director of Strategic Planning for TMCF, has introduced a new initiative of a bilateral student exchange program with Israel. Hart explains how “the bilateral student and faculty exchange will allow a deeper understanding of cultural differences in an environment that fosters leadership skills in diplomacy and public policy. In the long run, this exchange will contribute to the improvement of the relationship between the United States and Israel.” Again reminiscent of the great African American and Jewish alliance during Rosenwald’s time.
Jennifer Holliday, famous for her role in Dreamgirls, sang to the crowd. An extra high note treat was a local Wilson High School junior, Paris McMillian, who also belted out notes. Like an audition in The Voice, she brought the house down for her rendition of the national anthem. Count that as another star is born.
Jennifer Holliday at the TMCF Gala
Beaming at the evening’s success was former board member Noel Hankin, who was a Miller Lite brand manager. He claimed, “We created the Thurgood Marshall College Fund as a way to make education the centerpiece of our community involvement. It is consistent with research confirming that people identify education as the best way for corporations to contribute to their community.”
Cosby was not all laughs as he turned serious at the end. He recalled a story of his son who was cruelly told by a fellow student that he got an A because of “affirmative action.” He challenged the attending students to study hard and make their education years worthy. I am sure they listened.
By Aviva Kempner