Cosby Marks Court Ruling with Tough Love

02/03/2004 AT 07:39 PM EST

Bill Cosby went to the head of the class Monday at an event hosted by Columbia University's Teachers College, where he joined 500 ninth-graders in marking the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court desegregation ruling, Brown v. Board of Education, reports the Associated Press.

"Take that education," Cosby, 66, told the teens inside Riverside Church, near the Columbia campus where his late son Ennis had been preparing to receive a doctorate in education. (Ennis was fatally shot in Los Angeles in 1997.)

"Don't tell me it's boring," Cosby went on to lecture in a tough-love fashion. "You're going to be boring in about 10 years, and you may be boring while you're sitting in a cell, because you decided to do something that breaks the law. Why? Because you couldn't get a job. Why? Because you didn't want to give yourself a chance. Why? Because you don't like yourself."

Cosby's talk was one of hundreds of events around the country commemorating the monumental desegregation ruling, which is the official theme for this year's Black History Month running through February.

The actual date of the Supreme Court ruling was May 17, 1954. The justices unanimously declared that "separate but equal" educational facilities were inherently unequal and, as such, violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees all citizens "equal protection of the laws."

Cosby has long been a staunch promoter of education. Last September, he challenged officials at Central State, Ohio's historically black university, on how much money they could raise. School president John Garland told him $500,000, which Cosby said was "way too low." "If you raise $750,000, I'll come. And if you don't raise it, I'm going to embarrass you and I won't show up,'" Garland recalled.

Last week, Garland said the university has raised $600,000 toward the goal, and said he's confident it can surpass $750,000 - -meaning that "An Evening with Bill Cosby" near the school (which has a mass communication center named for Cosby and his wife, Camille) is now scheduled for April 25.

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