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‘A Different World’ Reunion Tour Arrives at Howard University

The” A Different World”  cast, along with Kim Cole, on stage (Juan Benn Jr/The Hilltop)

Howard University momentarily became Hillman University to celebrate the acclaimed TV show “A Different World” last Tuesday.

In celebration of the show’s 35th anniversary, cast members embarked on their “A Different World: HBCU College Tour 2024.” The tour kicked off last week in Atlanta and intends to raise scholarship funds and awareness about the “transformative experience of HBCUs.” 

“A Different World” focused on student life at the fictional HBCU in Virginia, Hillman College. The show, which aired from 1987 to 1993, is a spin-off of “The Cosby Show” that initially focused on eldest daughter Denise Huxtable, played by Lisa Bonet. 

After Bonet’s departure, the show shifted focus to Whitley Gilbert, Dwayne Wayne and an assorted cast of beloved characters and their collegiate life at Hillman.

The main cast, including Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Cree Summer, Glynn Turman, Dawnn Lewis, Darryl Bell, and Charnele Brown gathered in Cramton Auditorium for a panel discussing the iconic show. The event was introduced by HUSA president Nia Naylor and President Ben Vinson Ⅲ, who reminisced about rushing home from high school to catch the show.

“[The show] brought a slice of HBCU culture and black culture to millions of Americans,” Vinson said. 

An audience member holds up a cardboard cutout of the character Whitley Gilbert (Juan Benn Jr/The Hilltop)

Kim Cole, famously known as Synclair from the sitcom “Living Single,” moderated the panel and Q&A. Surprise guests included Howard alumna Debbie Allen, who served as a co-producer and director for the show, Karen Malina White, Tempestt Bledsoe, and comedian Sinbad. The cast laughed and had some emotional moments as they reminisced.

“I don’t think that any of us even then were aware of the impact. Yes, we were the number two show in the world. But as people of color, we felt that love from our people, but not necessarily from the industry at large,” Summer said.

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During the show’s time on air, HBCU enrollment increased by 26%, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report. The show was commended for character diversity and its ability to tackle relevant and important issues. 

Characters came from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Episodes focused on heavy topics, like Apartheid in South Africa and the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and relatable ones, like academic struggles and romantic relationships.

Lewis says it was essential to represent the diversity of student experiences and her character along with Sinbad’s and the late Lou Myers, who played Mr. Gaines, added another layer of representation. 

“I think that’s the reason why our show has such longevity. There was someone for everyone. Each of us represented something very special to the viewing audience,” she said.

Guy said her role as Whitley gave her a creative freedom that she hadn’t experienced before.

“I could be funny, I could be vulnerable. I can say ugly, incorrect things all the time. The freedom that we had in our characters were because we weren’t different,” she said. “We weren’t all playing the same thing from the same side of the tracks, we were bringing a variety of lifestyles in the black community because we are not a monolithic group of people.” 

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86th Miss Howard University Damariss Moore holds up a cutout of the character Jaleesa Vinson (Juan Benn Jr/The Hilltop)

The audience engaged in the event, holding up cardboard cutouts of characters from the show, answering trivia questions for prizes, and participating in a sing-along of “End Of The Road” by Boys Ⅱ Men at the end of the event, a reference to the show’s finale.

Senior health management major Kameren Simmons says although she hasn’t watched the show in full, she enjoyed the event.

“I’ve seen some popular moments of the show on social media, so it was very cool to be able to see the characters in the flesh. I thought it was very interactive and probably very nostalgic for the generation before me,” Simmons said.

“A Different World: HBCU College Tour 2024” will continue in fall 2024 with stops at other HBCUs. Cisco, Wells Fargo, the Student Freedom initiative, and Minds Matter sponsored the tour. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew


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