The final month: Why Bill Cosby thinks Germantown High should close

As the final day of Germantown High School’s 99-year history approaches — the Class of ’13 will don caps and gowns on June 19 — NewsWorks will present a series of stories including interviews with grads and former students.

To launch the GHS series, NewsWorks is sharing excerpts from an interview with Bill Cosby, the actor and comedian who attended the school, but failed out in the 10th grade, taking a shoe-repair job rather than repeat the year.

During a 20-minute phone interview in early May, Cosby made it perfectly clear why you didn’t hear him get involved in the school-closing protests.

He started the conversation by saying, “I agree with what the superintendent is doing there” and went on to explain his views.

Excerpts from the interview

“I went to Germantown High because I didn’t want to study at Central. At Germantown, I had the guys who I played with after sunset. Johnny Baines, who was six months older than me, lived on Beechwood St., we’ve been friends ever since.”

“Yeah, I have some great memories there. A lot of the girls I dated, the parties I went to, those kind of social things, that’s what I think about when someone asks me about Germantown.”

“Two aunts on my father’s side, they were GHS grads and international ladies. Two brothers went to Central.”

“I gave a talk there maybe four years ago, and on the way there, the area felt drug-infested.

“When I got up on stage, they said, ‘Here’s Bill Cosby to talk to you, students.’ I looked out and they were looking back at me like I’m the problem. Kids laughing, not paying any attention, not wanting to be there. Some were just sitting there and trying to look angry; some really were angry.

“Ordinarily I’d say it’s a shame and just do my talk. But, I said look, some of you may not care, but a lot of you don’t know what you’re future is going to be. You may think you do, but you don’t. Without credentials, an education, whatever it is you want for your future, it’s not going to happen for you.

“The way I look at it is this: Just look at those neighborhoods within walking distance of the school. Some parents are saying ‘No, I’m not going to let my kid go there.’ Why not? That’s what I’d like to know.

“When someone says to me that there used to be 1,400 students and 1,000 are out, with all that space in the building left, and it’s a great old building you know, but sometimes, you have to decide whether you’re going to pick yourself up, put money into it, and work to rebuild it. But the big question is this: Where did those 1,000 go? That’s the question for me.” [Editor’s note: The school district website lists current enrollment at 676 students. With that enrollment deemed 30 percent capacity, the maximum estimated enrollment would be 2,250.]

“I lost my junior high, too, FitzSimmons [in North Philadelphia]. There are areas of those schools just cordoned off. How can you sustain that?

“When this all came about, we were looking at it, and Johnny Baines called and said we should get out and protest. I said, ‘John, it’s too late.’ The ministers, the politicians, they know that’s the truth.

“What’s it going to take to galvanize you to realize you have to do something for yourselves?”

“If you want to do a good story about the closings, look at Girls High. There’s enthusiasm there. If we saw that everywhere, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now.”

NewsWorks wants to hear from graduates and former or current students in order to share their favorite memories from their time at the 99-year-old building.

To that end, we’re asking you to send your memories via email (subject line: My GHS Memories), the comments section or call (215) 351-1293.

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