When Bill Cosby comes to town, there are sometimes protesters, sometimes fans, and always mobs of media aiming their cameras and questions at the embattled, elderly entertainer.
Monica Lyons is all three, sort of.
A freelance photographer based in Philadelphia, Lyons joined the camera crews that captured Cosby’s slow walk Monday into the Montgomery County Courthouse, where he faces trial this week on sex-assault charges.
But unlike other journalists, Lyons has crossed paths with Cosby several times in the past three decades, making her feelings about the controversial comedian somewhat conflicted.
As a 1994 Temple University graduate and a Temple homecoming queen, she frequently saw Cosby at athletic games and other events there.
And when her son Nile was 3, she entered him into a “Cosby Kid Search,” a contest whose winner got to appear on the show and meet its stars. Nile was a talented hand-drummer even at that age, his mother said. He won the contest, beating out 1,000 other kids who auditioned.
“During breaks in the taping, Cosby clowned around with the 3-year-old and, playing drums with him and even preparing the child for the scene by personally running him through improvisational exercises,” contest sponsor KYW-3 wrote in a news release on Nile’s win.
After Nile’s visit to the TV set, Cosby hooked Lyons up with an agent in New York, she said. He worked in commercials for another four years, until the expense of shuttling Nile between Philly and New York became too great.
“He literally gave my son a job and gave us an opportunity that we never would have had to be in New York,” said Lyons, adding that her son, now 23, graduated from Hampton University this year and now works for Boy Scouts of America.
That personal experience — added to Cosby’s contributions to colleges and his pioneering role in the black community — drove Lyons to shout out some support to Cosby, as he walked by her leaning on his cane, and actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, who played his TV daughter Rudy.
“Cute as a button, still!” Lyons said, of the petite Pulliam.
Of Cosby, she added: “I just try to give him a little sunshine every time he comes.”
Her feelings, she admitted, are complicated. As a photographer, she generally avoids voicing her personal opinions about the subjects she covers, she said. And on Cosby’s alleged crimes, she said: “As a woman, I think rape is wrong in every way. If that is truly what happened, then someone needs to make sure that never happens again.”
Still, the crowds that have grown to condemn Cosby are large enough, she said, without her joining them.
“He’s going to receive whatever is due him,” she said. “But I don’t believe I need to be the one to put the nail in his coffin. He’s done a great job with everything that came before.”