June 29, 2005 -- -- It came as a shock to many last year when Bill Cosby, one of America's top TV dads and comedians, strongly criticized low-income African-Americans, and then took that message on the road.
In a series of "Conversations with Cosby" held in cities with large urban and poor populations, Cosby has said African-Americans are not "holding up their end of the deal" and need to take more responsibility for their families and communities.
During these events, Cosby has been tight-lipped with the media, often talking only to columnists in order to promote his advocacy. But the entertainer invited "Nightline's" Michel Martin to sit down for an exclusive interview during his latest event in St. Louis. Martin shared a preview of the piece, which airs in its entirety tonight, with "Good Morning America."
Cosby calls his town meetings "call outs" and has traveled to 12 cities so far, spreading his message of personal responsibility.
He has lambasted "lower-economic people," parents who spend more on athletic shoes than education, and children who use poor English and curse constantly. He has said blacks need to stop blaming whites and take control of their children and their communities.
"Nine hundred kids enter many of these high schools, and 35 walk out with diplomas," Cosby told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "The rest are in prison, pregnant or wandering around doing nothing."
Critics have dubbed it the "Blame the Poor Tour," and blasted Cosby's remarks as hurtful and stereotypical.
Martin asked Cosby about those criticisms.
"I would say they are trying to move away from the problem," Cosby said. "They're trying to deal me some cards other than the hand that I'm talking about. I don't talk about the television set that works. I call the mechanic about that one that's broken."
However, his outspokenness has made him a target due to his own conduct, including current allegations of sexual misconduct. Prosecutors have declined to press charges, although a civil suit is pending. Cosby has publicly acknowledged that he had an inappropriate relationship outside of his marriage.
Martin asked Cosby if his own failures of judgment disqualify him from speaking about others.
"No," Cosby said flatly. "I couldn't care less what you think of me as long as you begin to execute that which will save your children."
He compared speaking out to warning others against mistakes he had made himself.
"You don't have to listen to me," he said. "But you're going to be very, very sorry."
Cosby grew up in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood, seeing little of his father who was a mess steward in the Navy. Cosby himself left high school in 10th grade to join the Navy, and later received his diploma from a correspondence course while still in the service. He attended Temple University on a football scholarship, and received a master's and doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts.
Cosby is the creator of Fat Albert and played Heathcliff Huxtable on "The Cosby Show." He has won four Emmy Awards, eight Grammys, the NAACP Image Award, the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award and is a member of the Hall of Fame of the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences.
Cosby and his wife, Camille, had five children. In 1997, their son, Ennis, was killed by a single gunshot to the head while changing a tire on his car.
Cosby has already taken his "call outs" to Atlanta; Springfield, Mass.; Newark, N.J.; Baltimore; and Dallas, among other cities. He plans to continue his conversation in Cleveland, Kansas City and other urban areas.