September 17 2009
Independent Women's Forum President Michelle D. Bernard knew she needed to recruit a well-known and respected national figure to help promote her ideas to empower the poor and break the cycle of dependency on broken government programs.
So when Mrs. Bernard, also a political analyst for MSNBC, saw comedian Bill Cosby in the halls of NBC's Washington bureau last spring, "I literally begged him to work with me," she said.
Not long after they met, Mr. Cosby agreed to co-host a two-hour town-hall special about the state of the nation's poor and how to help them. The special will air on MSNBC at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Although Mr. Cosby is best-known for his comedic performances, he has gained a strong following among many reformers, like Mrs. Bernard, for publicly demanding that poor blacks take responsibility for social ills within their communities, such as high teenage-pregnancy and crime rates.
But this isn't a program targeted toward blacks, Mrs. Bernard noted.
"This is a program for all Americans - it will be about problems, choices and solutions," she said. "I hope that on Monday after the show, we will see people uprising and saying, 'Give me back my tax dollars so I can put it into schools that have a proven ability to help children.' I hope they say, 'Give me back my money to get the help that me and my children need so I don't have to go the Department of Health and Human Services, where no one will help me,' or they demand they get people in there who will."
The TV program also will kick off a new IWF campaign called "About Our Children." The television special and the campaign are focused on three areas in hopes of empowering low-income Americans to give children "their shot at truly achieving the American dream." Those areas are personal responsibility, education and health.
During the segment on education, school choice will be discussed as a means of helping the poor and diversifying schools.
Mrs. Bernard calls it "the civil rights movement of our time."
"If Thurgood Marshall were alive and looking at the state of K-12 education, he would be enraged at the fact our schools are so abysmal," she said of the late Supreme Court justice, who was black. "They are still largely separate and unequal."
The education panel will include several experts, including a labor union official, charter school advocates, D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, and others.