If you’re a teen or 20-something-year-old young woman born in the 90’s, you should have heard of A Different World by now. If not, that’s why we’re here. A Different World premiered in 1987 as a Cosby Show spinoff, highlighting the day-to-day life of Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet) as a freshman at a fictional HBCU in Virginia, Hillman College. After the first season, the story line shifted a bit but continued to thrive with the all black cast starring Jasmine Guy, Dawnn Lewis, Kadeem Hardison, Darryl M. Bell, Charnele Brown, Cree Summer, Jada Pinkett-Smith, and more.
Overall, the show promoted a positive black college experience that allowed America to see another side of the black community outside of stereotypes. Howard Alumna Debbie Allen, who was hired as a producer/director after season two, is often given credit for helping transform the accuracy of the show as she "drew from her college experiences in an effort to accurately reflect in the show the social and political life on black campuses.” (Museum of Broadcast Communications)
Aired every Thursday on NBC, A Different World was the 2nd highest rated television program of 1987–88 in the United States, right after The Cosby Show. Here are the most valuable lessons from the show and why they’re so important for girls of color:
Value Of Sisterhood
You can always count on your girls. In college, surrounding yourself with positive, intelligent, strong, supportive, genuine females is half of the secret to getting through it. Girls need support from other girls, and not only in the black community. In early episodes, a white character named Maggie was included in the group of college fun and girl talks.
It’s important to have that safe, relatable space to lean on when you’re down or in trouble. Or when you need build up the courage to leave a toxic, abusive relationship.
Speak Up For What’s Right
If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. One of the most popular episodes involved an altercation between math wiz Dwayne Wayne, "ladies man" Ron Johnson, and a group of white boys from a rival school after the white boys spray painted “nigger” on Ron’s car. The whole group was jailed and Dwayne and Ron had to deliver truth instead of allowing the disrespect to continue:
Another episode revolves around Freddie, who was never afraid to speak her mind, and Whitley’s decision not to shop at a jewelry store after experiencing blatant prejudice.
Take Pride In Yourself
You are worthy of the world and don’t let anyone tell you different. Although it is often portrayed that certain social groups are “better” than others, fitting in isn’t the goal. In college, you will come to find that people will love you for who you are. Ms. Whitley Gilbert is the prime example of this.
Her confident, sassy character is often also the most irritating but no one can say that 1) she didn’t remain her true self or 2) she ever let people who didn’t like her stop her shine. By doing so, she went from being someone who everyone avoided to finding her group of friends (and husband) that love her and all the “extra" she comes with. So, yes it’s true: all you have to do is be yourself.
The Right One Will Come
No matter how hard you try, the one you’re supposed to be with will always find their way to you. All the sorrow, trouble, and pain you go through because of men will be worth it for who you end up with in the end.
A love story like no other: Whitley and Dwayne Wayne. Whitley never saw Dwayne as a man of interest and while Dwayne helplessly swooned over Whitley, he eventually got the message and began dating girls who saw his worth. These love birds went through three whole seasons of shenanigans before they actually got together and boy, was it a journey. But it was worth it because nothing could keep these two from each other. Literally, nothing:
The lesson here is that what’s meant for you, will always be for you.
Serve Your Community
Especially as young people, it is our responsibility for being aware of what's going on in our community and staying #WOKE. And what a time to be alive this was as America was facing controversy in politics, racism/police brutality, feminism, gang violence, sex, etc. Many episodes covered these groundbreaking issues of the 90’s (and unsurprising, today) including a popular episode confronting AIDS, seen from a slightly different dynamic back then than today:
*Bonus: Watch Oprah talk to the cast about where they are now:
Written By: Kiara C Fair