In Honor of Bill Cosby, Winner of the Mark Twain Prize for Humor

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In Honor of Bill Cosby, Winner of the Mark Twain Prize for Humor  (2009) 
by Chaka Fattah

In Honor of Bill Cosby, Winner of the Mark Twain Prize for Humor, Congressional Record, Volume 155, Number 155 (Friday, October 23, 2009). Extensions of Remarks. Page E2619.

In Honor of Bill Cosby, Winner of the Mark Twain Prize for Humor

In Honor of Bill Cosby, Winner of the Mark Twain Prize for Humor



Friday, October 23, 2009

Mr. FATTAH. Madam Speaker, I rise today to congratulate a hometown hero and constituent of mine--the distinguished and very funny Philadelphian, William Henry Cosby, Jr.

Bill Cosby has been tickling the nation's funny-bone and prodding its conscience throughout his adult life. He has won a trophy room of honors, but none like this one. Bill Cosby's talents and his insight have earned him the 12th annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, awarded by the Kennedy Center on October 26, 2009. The star-studded and laugh-filled presentation will be shown on PBS nationally on Wednesday, November 4, always one of PBS's most popular and acclaimed programs.

Bill Cosby--aka Heathcliff Huxtable, friend of Fat Albert, "America's Dad"--is no stranger to the nation's viewers and comedy fans. Less well known, but looming large in terms of character and values, is the Bill Cosby who has served as role model, activist, educator, author, anti-violence crusader, fundraiser and valued citizen of his native Philadelphia.

Bill Cosby was born in the Germantown section of Philadelphia into a modest family that valued hard work--the son of a maid and a Navy cook. He was raised in the Richard Allen Projects, attending Channing Wister Elementary, Fitzsimons Junior High, Central and Germantown High Schools, playing various roles as class clown, class president, star athlete, shoe repair apprentice, produce seller, and ultimately Navy hospital corpsman.

As a young adult he began a lifetime relationship with Philadelphia's premier public institution of higher learning, Temple University. Building on his high school equivalency diploma, earned through correspondence courses, he enrolled in Temple in 1961 on a track and field scholarship, also playing fullback. Cosby, telling jokes as he earned a living, interrupted his studies to pursue show business, returned to academia and ultimately received a bachelor's degree from Temple.

Eventually Bill Cosby would become Doctor Cosby. He earned a masters and a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts, a springboard to his later involvement in advocating for educational opportunity. But Bill Cosby, proud alum, has never left the Temple family, happily donning the cherry and white for football and basketball games, cheering on the Owls during and after the tenure of his close friend, Coach John Chaney.

Cheerleading isn't all Bill Cosby has done for Temple. He has endowed scholarships (including one for graduates of Philadelphia schools he attended), established a lecture series, generated the University's Cosby Scholarship Committee of the Provost's office, appeared at numerous fundraisers and alumni functions, and served as the public face for Temple on countless occasions.

Another side of the Bill Cosby Philadelphia Story is his anti- violence work. I have marched with Bill Cosby and my friend Bilal Qayyum through the streets of our city beneath the banner of Men United for a Better Philadelphia to denounce the scourge of violence, murder and gang activity. He has been outspoken--and raised considerable controversy--in denouncing the gang-minded culture and the negative, hateful cultural influences that fan street violence among our youth. He aimed his toughest words at parents, calling on them to step up and take responsibility for their children's education, safety and values.

Education has been another Cosby cause. He and I share the passion for leveling the playing field, providing every child the resources, the quality teachers and the full opportunity to achieve his or her dreams. Earlier this year he donned a T-shirt from Central High School to stand with Governor Ed Rendell and advocate for fairer school funding.

In his famous 2004 "Pound Cake Speech" Bill Cosby raised some hackles by telling African American parents they need to do a better job teaching their children morals at home. He chided those who "had forgotten the sacrifices of those in the civil rights movement" and declared that many young African Americans put too much emphasis on sports, fashion, and acting tough in the streets.

The controversies raised by Bill Cosby still ripple through communities of color, but the points he raises are valid. And of course he has never lost his sense of humor. In all these ways, Bill Cosby is a worthy recipient of the Mark Twain Prize and the legacy of Mark Twain himself.

I urge my colleagues in the House to join me in congratulating and thanking Bill Cosby, Philadelphian and American, upon this great occasion.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).