DC at Night

DC at Night

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Bill for Bill for a Bill

Until this week, my only personal story about both money and fame occurred in 1971 at Villanova University.

Then, I was a sophomore at Villanova. That same year, the Wildcat basketball team would go on a roll which would take them to the NCAA tournament championship game against era-power UCLA. I knew most of the team since I was an education major and the players all took classes with Education Professor William Ray Heitzman, who was a head scout for the basketball program. In fact, I was in a Heitzman class with all 5 members of the starting team including All-American star forward Howard Porter.

Anyway, one day I was in Bartley Hall at the edge of campus when Porter came up to me and asked me for a dime to use the pay phone. (Yes a dime for a pay phone. This story is taking place in 1971 after all). Of course, I gave it to him. Later in the year, the team lost in the finals to UCLA, but Porter was brilliant. However, it was discovered that prior to the tournament, Porter had signed a contract to play in the then-in-existence American Basketball Association and so was technically a professional and not eligible to participate in the tournament. Villanova was removed from the record book, Porter was disgraced, and I never got my dime back. But I did have a good story linking me to Big 5 and college basketball history.

However, my Villanova story dropped to number 2 on my money/fame list this Wednesday.

For the past 2 years, I have been working as an educational consultant at Dunbar High School here in DC. Although Dunbar is now plagued with the same problems that have beset inner city schools around America, in the first 60 years of the 20th Century it was recognized as the finest Black high school in America. It was the greatest single disprover of any contention that Black students couldn't learn at high levels. For example, 97% of the graduating class of 1955 went to 4-year colleges. It is still the only high school in the nation where 8 faculty members and alumni made such great contributions to America that they were placed on U.S. postal stamps. Its graduates include the 1st elected Black U.S. Senator, the 1st  Black general in the Army, the 1st Black admiral in the Navy, and the 1st Black cabinet Secretary, as well as the current DC delegate to the U.S.Congress and the Mayor of Washington.

This week, city officials, school staff, and alumni have been celebrating the fact that when students return to Dunbar next week, they will be entering a brand new, state-of-the-art $122 million high school replacing the prison-like structure built in 1976.

My mentoree Julian Dotson, my new best friend Bill, and me backstage at Dunbar.

On Wednesday, comedian Bill Cosby was on the program as the main guest speaker. Also scheduled to speak was young English teacher Julian Dotson, who was one of my consulting mentorees. Dotson was able to get me back stage to hang around with Cosby. During his hilarious talk, Cosby pulled both his pockets out to show the roaring crowd that he was not getting paid for his appearance.

When the program was over, Cosby returned to the green room. I didn't want Bill (I was sure I was now on a solid enough friendship footing to call Mr. Cosby Bill) to walk away with nothing. I remembered how badly I felt when Howard Porter took my last dime.

"Bill, I know you said out there you weren't getting paid, but that's not right. Here is $1," I said. "You can use it at Ben's Chili Bowl." Now I knew that Cosby wouldn't need it there. There is big sign at the front of the U Street eatery that Cosby helped make wildly popular which reads: "If your name is Barack Obama or Bill Cosby you eat free. Everyone else pays." But, as my Mom used to say, it is the thought, not the action, that counts.

Cosby stared at me for a second, then burst into that hearty, choppy laugh that only he has. "Give me that dollar," he said, snatching the bill out of my hand. He turned to Dotson. "Here, I'm making a contribution to the school."

With that dollar donation, the cost of the school bill was immediately reduced to $121,999,999. Cosby might claim credit, but I would always know where the $1 really came from. And it was a small price (get it, price ...) to pay for a great story about me and my new best friend Bill, a Bill who took one bill from me to reduce the bill of the cost of the new version of the high school that was once the greatest Black high school in all the land.

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Speaking of Bill Cosby and Ben's Chili Bowl, Cosby showed up there today to help the famed eatery celebrate its 55th anniversary. Click here to read and view video footage about Cosby's visit.

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