By Kareema Bangura

“A Different World” contributed to a broader shift in television toward more diverse and nuanced representations of race and identity, specifically of the Black community, cast members are pointing out during their national reunion tour.

“The freedom that we had in our characters was because we were different,” Jasmine Guy, who is known to fans as Whitley Gilbert, said during a stop in the nation’s capital.

“We were bringing a variety of lifestyles to the Black community, because we are not a monolithic group of people.”

On portraying the character Kimberly Reese, at fictitious Hillman Collage, Charnele Brown reflected: “I am so overwhelmed about representing the chocolate sisters. I didn’t know I was doing it at the time.”

In addition to showcasing the HBCU experience, the series involved topics such as race, class relations, sexual assault and health under producer Debbie Allen’s leadership, the cast said.

In the season 4 episode titled “If I Should Die Before I Wake,” the series explored the HIV/AIDS epidemic, making history as the first American network television show to address it.

“We had great writers, and they put us in the position to really live out things that I never saw,” said Kadeem Hardison, who played the character Dwayne Wayne.

However, Cree Summer, who portrayed the free-spirited activist Winifred “Freddie” Brooks, pointed out that “we felt the love from our people, but not necessarily from the industry at large.”

While in Washington, cast members visited Howard University and alumna Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House. Their HBCU Tour raises awareness and scholarship funds “to inspire a new generation to choose HBCUs” and ensure access, according to the tour’s website.

The cast has visited Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College. In the fall, stops will include Alabama State and Tuskegee universities.

Allen, who participated in the Howard stop remotely, said her time at Howard inspired the series, which ran from 1987 to 1993. Other Howard alumni were also involved in the production such as alumna Karen Malina White, who portrayed Charmaine Brown.

“I’m so proud to be a Bison, always,” White said. “This is where we learn to define who we are.”

Cast member Dawnn Lewis, who played Jaleesa Taylor, emphasized that the positive portrayal of HBCUs is as important now as when the show first premiered.

“We are being so challenged right now with our history being erased, with people trying to minimize our contributions,” Lewis said. “This environment, where we are and shows like ours, gives us the audacity to be excellent.”

Enrollment at historically Black colleges and universities increased by 26% between 1976 and 1994, according to a report from the National Center for Education Statistics. Some research has credited “A Different World” with contributing to the rise in enrollment at HBCUs.

Howard University Student Association President Nia Naylor said the show’s topics have remained relevant and has inspired students, just like her, to attend an HBCU.

Naylor describes “A Different World” as “a time machine that has truly impacted generations and will continue to for years to come.”

Kareema Bangura is a reporter for

'A Different World' Tour Highlights the Difference of Positive Images

Debbie Allen, producer of “A Different World,” calls in as a special guest during a discussion with cast members visiting Howard University. (HUNews Bangura)