An Inmate, Pastor and Civil Rights Legend Weigh the Social Impact of Bill Cosby

**FILE** Bill Cosby smiles as he walks away from a courthouse in Pennsylvania. (Courtesy photo)

Earlier from Chicago, the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. made a public plea to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf to release Cosby, noting the 83-year-old comedian’s age and declining health as the coronavirus pandemic rages.

And in New York, the Brothers of Sh’ma Yisrael Hebrew Israelite Congregation also stood in support of Cosby.

In each case, the lasting legacy of Cosby and the iconic “The Cosby Show” was front and center. And Cosby himself has taken notice.

“I would like to personally thank these great men and teachers of God’s scriptures for standing by and supporting me with the truth and the facts,” the comedian tweeted about the Brothers of Sh’ma, particularly singling out Na Hasi and Prince Nat. “Please watch these brothers … Shabbat Shalom to my brothers and sisters Dina, and her mother, Verita, and her sister. Thank you very much and I can feel your prayers.”

In a separate statement, Cosby thanked Jackson.

“Mr. & Mrs. Cosby are forever grateful to Rev. Jackson and his family because he has been working feverishly to get the state of Pennsylvania to release Mr. Cosby since the height of the COVID-19 pandemic began back in April,” Cosby said through spokesman Andrew Wyatt.

At SCI-Phoenix, Sutton echoed the appreciation for Cosby, who he affectionately refers to as “the old man.”

“The old man has had a huge impact on us men here inside, and a lot of people didn’t think that he would have the influence that he’s had,” Sutton remarked in a phone call from SCI-Phoenix, the sprawling 128-acre prison complex just outside of Philadelphia.

“The way he’s enlightened us, the way he’s encouraged us to stand up and be men in the community …and he shouldn’t even be in here,” added Sutton, who also has a son incarcerated at the facility.

Sutton helps lead Mann Up, a program designed to help change the lives of African American men with long prison sentences. The program empowers and encourages Black males to be better fathers, husbands, and community members.

Cosby, who is not a member, has provided a significant boost to the program, Sutton told NNPA Newswire.

“The old man got us together and told us that a man is judged by how he treats his mother and how he treats his wife and family,” Sutton said. “He has instilled in us that a man cannot be considered a man if he doesn’t provide. He comes in here, and he doesn’t act like he’s better than anyone. He keeps it simple.

“Look, he is a political prisoner,” he continued. “He is in here not for a crime, but adultery. But he does not look for favors, and with all his money and resources, he has nothing more than what we have, no extras when he could easily have extras.”

Sutton has endeared himself to Cosby, who directed his team outside to assist Sutton in preparing the inmate’s appeals.

Since Cosby’s 2018 conviction, the debate has raged whether the star’s legacy and his hit 1980s sitcom “The Cosby Show” was worth preserving.

As a 1992 Los Angeles Times article noted, Cosby is personally responsible for the employment, encouragement and artistic support of more Black writers than anyone in television history.

“Cosby showed Blacks could be well-to-do and possess commensurate class,” the Times article said. “He showed that a Black man could not only get a job but also that he and his wife can have thriving professional careers.”

In Virginia, Wesley recalled living in Chicago during the 1980s, when he said gangs were abundant.

“What was amazing was that statistics proved by data that Thursday nights were the most peaceful nights in Chicago, with fewer murders on Thursday night than any other night,” Wesley told his congregation. “Phone calls to 911 reduced, gang violence was not rampant on Thursday evenings, which were the most peaceful times in Black communities all around the country.

“Because Thursday night, ‘The Cosby Show’ came on, and even hardened criminals and wannabe gangstas sat down on Thursday night to watch ‘The Cosby Show,’” he said. “It was responsible for opening doors for all Black casting shows like the ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ ‘Martin’ and others. The Cosby Show gave us Black family at its best.”

In his appeal to Wolf, Jackson also cited the impact Cosby has had in the Black community and beyond.

“He’s 84 and blind. Who’s he going to hurt?” the noted civil rights leader told the Philadelphia Tribune. “He should be home and free and away from all of those germs.

“The government needs to do something,” Jackson said emphatically. “He shouldn’t still be in prison.”

The activist said he has known Cosby since 1968 and has seen his humanitarian side.

“He’s helped so many, many people,” Jackson said, referring to the many donations Cosby and his wife, Camille, have made to HBCUs and other organizations over the years. “I’m coming forward to speak out because I believe in justice, too.”

Back at SCI-Phoenix, Sutton recalled meeting Cosby behind bars for the first time.

“I said to him that I wanted to ask a favor,” Sutton recollected. “I said, ‘I need you to give me your word that you would come over on a Saturday and sit in on the Mann Up organization.’ And he told me, ‘Benny-Do, if God lets me live, I’ll be there.’

“I told him we were putting an organization together where we could change the narrative, that we could go home and be decent people, decent citizens and decent neighbors and change our way of thinking and our way of living,” he said. “So, Mr. Cosby came over, and he heard me MC the program.

“I introduced him, and there were 420 people there, and we all gave him a standing ovation,” Sutton said. “He is a man who went through the Jim Crow era and the marches for civil rights of the 1960s. He mentioned that he is blind and said he could not see us, but he created such an atmosphere for us to enlighten us with his wisdom. He had everyone’s attention. He’s had a hell of an impact.”

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