Bill Cosby’s Central 256 shirt sparks high school alumni anger

LaToya Winkfield couldn’t believe it when she saw the pic: Fresh out of jail Bill Cosby standing outside his Elkins Park home with one arm in the air, wearing a Central High School T-shirt.

Winkfield had the same shirt, white with “256” in hand-drawn gold letters on a crimson background, a nod to the 256th class of the famous Philadelphia Magnetic School, which graduated in 1997. His reaction was visceral.

“I hate to say ‘ew’ at 41, but it really was an ‘ew’ moment,” said Winkfield, who was particularly disturbed by the fact that Cosby’s name and the names were printed on the back of Cosby’s shirt. names of all his 256 classmates.

Cosby was released from jail on Wednesday after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned his 2018 sexual assault conviction over a technicality.

For many Central alumni, Cosby’s post-release assertion of his connection to the iconic North Philadelphia school has left a bad taste in their mouths. On social media, Winkfield and some of his classmates lamented the 83-year-old comedian’s clothing choices. “I feel tarnished,” wrote one.

A post on an alumni Facebook page had 76 comments and three shares, and got people to post pictures of themselves in their 256 folders.

READ MORE: Central High throws Cosby out of Hall of Fame

Cosby briefly attended Central in the 1950s before leaving school for Germantown High. For years, Cosby ran for central office, speaking to graduating classes and donating money to various causes. He was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1998, then retired in 2015 after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced.

At the time, the Central Alumni Association said Cosby’s impeachment was due to “a desire to eliminate an issue that distracted attention from the Alumni Hall of Fame mission.”

Winkfield, who runs the Upward Bound program at Temple University, remembers Cosby often visiting Central. When she was a senior, someone gave her a classy shirt.

“They paraded him around like he was this prestigious alumnus, showing up every year for some sort of programming,” Winkfield said. But when the students at Central learned that Cosby hadn’t really graduated from school, “he kind of became an impostor to us.”

It also irritates Tiffany Green. Cosby often criticized black people for not working hard enough, but “his grades weren’t up to par. The hypocrisy amazes me, ”said Green, another member of the 1997 middle class.

Green, an economist and professor at the University of Wisconsin, hated the sight of Cosby in a shirt that showed his connection to Central. And it’s upsetting to her that Cosby and his team have used his connections to schools like Central and Temple and the “America’s Dad” character he has cultivated through. The Cosby Show in an attempt to deflect evidence that he sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004 and other women before her.

“This idea that her legacy is so deep and so important that women’s lives don’t matter is ludicrous,” Green said. “I am horrified that in 2021 we still live in a world where this man is being raised because of a TV show over 30 years old and donations to schools.”

She was also uncomfortable with the idea put forward by some around Cosby that he was being sued for being black.

“We have a long history in the United States of black men being abused over false rape charges, but that doesn’t mean that women over 60 lie, ”Green said.

Aja Beech, who graduated from Central in 1996, was a little relieved that Cosby represents 256 and not her class, 255.

Beech, who studies law and works in victim advocacy, thought Cosby’s choice of T-shirt was calculated.

“He knows how to make things work, and that makes him endearing to people, and it reminds people that he’s from Philadelphia, and everything he’s done for these educational institutions,” Beech said. . “It was a ploy, and I don’t like it being used that way.”

But it was still shocking, Beech said – imagine if a convicted Penn State official was released from prison and then pictured wearing a Penn State uniform.

Youma Diabira, a Central graduate last month, thought Cosby’s Central shirt was “embarrassing.”

“It was almost disrespectful to the institution for him to put on this gear,” Diabira said.

A spokesperson for the Philadelphia School District said the system had no comment on Cosby and his ties to Central.

Unexpectedly, the national spotlight on the 256 shirt had some benefits, some alumni said – it caused them to reconnect, if only electronically, and share jokes about how they wished they could. that Cosby wears a shirt depicting Northeast High, a longtime Central rival.

And at least someone might take advantage: replicas of the Central 256 shirt are suddenly appearing for sale online.

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Daniel Lange

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