'A Different World' reunion as Home Depot pumps $$$ into HBCUs

Posted Monday, Aprili 30, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Home Depot Monday brought four key members from the classic sitcom "A Different World" about historically black colleges and universities to highlight its donations to those schools.

This year, the Atlanta-based retailer, spearheaded by senior marketing manager Melissa Brown, is donating $360,000 to nine different schools this year. Over the past nine years, it has granted $2.1 million to HBCU schools to rebuild infrastructure. Among the winners this year: Southern University, Jackson State University and Talladega College.

The actors - Darryl Bell (Ron), Cree Summer (Freddie), Kadeem Hardison (Dwayne) and Atlanta's own Jasmine Guy (Whitley) - were happy to reunite in Atlanta for this cause.

Explore RELATED: AJC special report on HBCUs and the challenges they face in 2018

"It's a dream," Summer said. "We do hang out on purpose. We're friends. To come together for something like this is gratifying. It it weren't for HBCUs, 'A Different World" wouldn't exist. I'm thrilled to see Home Depot help reinvigorate the campuses. It's something to be proud of."

"We're good mascots for the voice of the HBCU," said Atlanta actress Jasmine Guy, who recently starred in BET's "The Quad" about life at a fictional Atlanta HBCU. (It was just cancelled after two seasons.) Ironically, she didn't actually attend an HBCU despite acting in "School Daze," "A Different World" and "The Quad."

RELATED: How well do you know "A Different World"? 

Still, she grew up across the street from Morehouse since her father taught there and she had uncles and aunts who attended there and Spelman. "I learned to rid my bike at Morehouse," Guy said during a panel discussion Monday. "I had no idea people didn't know what an HBCU was."

The show, which ran six seasons from 1987 to 1993 and regularly drew 25 million viewers a week on NBC in its heyday, was the first prime-time program to highlight HBCUs and helped boost enrollment at those schools. Repeats airs on Centric and Laff today.

"We were just happy to have a job," Guy said after they got their jobs in 1987. She played the stuck-up Whitley. "I didn't realize the impact it had on a social level" at the time.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

"To play a character as broad and outrageous with Whitley was so much fun for  me," she added. "I could only do it because I was part of an ensemble. We were all black but all different."

Summer loved her student activist character Freddie because "she represents the freaks. She's not like anybody else. She was unabashedly herself."

Bell, who played Freddie's squeeze and musician Ron, said he loved how his character transformed form relatively frivolous to something far more substantive. He loves hearing stories from people whose lives were fundamentally changed thanks to the show and his character.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

The actors, by the way, all took a pass to comment about last week's Bill Cosby verdict. Cosby created the spin-off to "The Cosby Show."

Here is the talk my colleague and higher-ed reporter Eric Stirgus and I did with Jasmine: