September 20, 2010 was a significant day in American History. It was the twenty sixth anniversary of the premiere of the Cosby Show. The Cosby show first aired on September 20, 1984. The genius of Bill Cosby not only saved a dying network called NBC but it also changed how the world saw African Americans and more importantly how African Americans saw themselves and their potential. The Cosby Show also changed the employment practices of those that worked in front of and behind the cameras in network television. Bill Cosby demanded in his pre-show negotiations that the larger number of employees working on the Cosby Show set be African Americans. His demands were met and the number of African Americans working on a network television show was higher than they had ever been.
The impact of the Cosby Show was felt not only in America but around the world. The portrayal of this African Americans family of seven, with parents having professional careers showed the world that black folk had culture, class, manners, education, values and much style. It broke the stereotype of overweight black mothers, absent fathers and under achieved children.
From the rural farms of the Deep South to the city ghettos millions of blacks had been afflicted with the ‘Good Times Syndrome’. One of the more popular predecessors to the Cosby show was the show Good Times. Good Times which first aired on February 8, 1974, was centered on the life of James and Florida Evans and their three children. The Evans family resided in the projects of Chicago and the Good Times the Evans family experienced were far and few between. Florida the Matriarch of the Evans family had been a former maid on a show called Maude. The show Good Times was a spin-off from Maude. Florida was still a maid when Good Times first aired. She later held numerous jobs including a bus driver and a store clerk while James, the father was regularly unemployed and frequently passed over for employment because of his lack of education. Evans children Michael and Thelma were smart and intelligent while JJ was a gifted artist and brilliant professor of Ebonics. Florida and James did teach their children values and were strict disciplinarian. However, the system always seemed to drain their hope and eclipse their dreams. The presence of the Evans family on television was important and it has its place as a barrier breaker. Good times did provide some very funny moments, but somehow it always left me sad.
Let us reflect back on the many highlights of the Cosby show. Let us remember the family meals, the family talent shows, the fights between the siblings, the struggle of Vanessa to survive peer pressure, and the lessons learned through understated backgrounds of black art and lessons on black music history and the impact of the March on Washington. Let us ask ourselves how the Cosby show changed the way we saw ourselves. Let us ask hoe many of us or others we know took a different path, stood taller, elevated their dreams and challenged themselves to reach for the Huxtable life. As a child of separated parents I realize that Claire and Heathcliffe did help my dreams. It gave vision to a dream that in my world I had not yet seen. It did that for me, I am certain it did the same for thousands more. The Huxtables allowed us to be color blind. I wish there was a magic pill for that vision today; as we approach the second year in the term of the first President of African American decent, Americans still do not see most African Americans as Huxtable like.