Embattled comedian Bill Cosby will embark on a symbolic "March for Education" across the Edmund Pettus Bridge Friday in Alabama, the site where civil rights activists faced brutal reprisals from local authorities 50 years ago in the fight for voting rights.
The march will be in partnership with The Black Belt Community Foundation, a 10-year-old nonprofit organization which aims to improve the quality of life for people living in the area. Prior to the march, Cosby has been invited to speak to hundreds of high schoolers in the cities of Demopolis and Selma.
Despite Cosby's long record as a philanthropist and social activist, his presence is sure to cause controversy due to months of allegations that he either drugged and/or sexually assaulted more than 30 women over several decades. He has never been charged with a crime and has denied accusations of sexual assault in the past, but the cloud of controversy caused by the steady stream of accusers has led to a serious deterioration of his once enviable reputation. His recent "Far From Finished" stand-up comedy tour was dogged by protests, and Cobsy has seen planned projects either shelved or sidetracked indefinitely in the wake of the scandal.
Still, unlike some organizations that have chosen to break ties with Cosby in the aftermath of renewed scrutiny on his personal life, The Black Belt Community Foundation has eagerly embraced him. "Dr. Cosby's legacy transcends decades but his dedication to humanity, education, and philanthropy is an invaluable resource along with the exposure he can bring to the serious challenges affecting this region of the country," Black Belt Community Foundation President Felecia Lucky told AL.com.
Cosby, who has made passing references to the firestorm around him in public, has said he strongly supports The Black Belt organization, saying in a statement, "We have a moral and societal obligation to give our young people the opportunity to succeed with their education."
The comedian's family, former co-stars and some celebrities have vehemently defended him in public, while other prominent figures have come out to condemn him and those fans who refuse to stop standing by him. For instance, former “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno, who frequently had Cosby appear alongside him as a guest, said during a Q&A session at the National Association of Television Program Executives in January, “I don’t know why it’s so hard to believe women.”
“You go to Saudi Arabia and you need two women to testify against a man. Here you need 25,” he said.
Producer-director Judd Apatow has also been one of Cosby's biggest critics of late. “I can understand why someone would say, ‘Why does Judd care about this?’ I don’t know, I have two daughters. I’m a comedian. I see him a little bit as our comedy dad. It’s like finding out your comedy dad is a really evil guy,” Apatow told comic Marc Maron on the “WTF” podcast earlier this year.
The 77-year-old former sitcom star is currently facing a defamation lawsuit brought by three of his accusers, spearheaded by attorney Gloria Allred.