Keshia Knight Pulliam and Lance Gross promote TBS’ HBCU ‘Cash Out’ contest for alums

Keisha Knight-Pulliam and Lance Gross at the 2011 BET Soul Train Awards 2011 at the Fox Theatre.
Keisha Knight-Pulliam and Lance Gross at the 2011 BET Soul Train Awards 2011 at the Fox Theatre.

Credit: Raymond Hagans

Credit: Raymond Hagans

Three $25,000 prizes are at stake.

Keshia Knight Pulliam and Lance Gross go back many years working in Atlanta on “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,” which originally aired on TBS in the mid-2000s.

So they are joining cable network TBS to promote a new contest to give money to alumni of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) who need help reducing or eliminating their student loan debt. The contest is dubbed HBCU Cash Out.

People who have graduated from an HBCU after December 1, 2015, could win one of three $25,000 prizes by providing a 60-second video explaining how an HBCU degree helped them achieve their dreams and how relieving them of this $25,000 burden will make their lives better.

The video can be posted on Instagram, Twitter or YouTube and needs the hashtag #HBCUCashOutContest with the tag TBS. The deadline is March 8, 2021.

Both actors are HBCU grads. Knight Pulliam graduated from Spelman College in 2001. Gross received his bachelor’s degree at Howard University in Washington D.C.

Pulliam, 42, who played Rudy on “The Cosby Show” from 1984 to 1992, remembers visiting Spelman for a shoot for “The Cosby Show” when she was just seven years old.

“That was when I decided I was going to Spelman,” she said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Wednesday. “I was around all these beautiful women. It left an indelible mark on my soul. I went to a predominately white high school. HBCUs were not in the conversation. My counselor tried to talk to me about other schools, but I applied to Spelman early decision. I knew I was going there by Christmas break of senior year.”

And she ultimately loved her experience there. “It was a magical time for me,” Pulliam said. “It feeds your spirit. It’s empowering in a setting and atmosphere where you have this role model-ship not only from professors but your peers.”

Gross, who is 39, agreed. He was inspired to attend Howard after watching “The Cosby Show” spin-off “A Different World,” which was set at a fictional Virginia HBCU.

“The professors and faculty took me under their wing,” he said. “They care for you. It’s a family environment. If I had to do it again, I’d do it the same way.”

Both actors were fortunate. Pulliam had earned plenty of money from “The Cosby Show” to pay for Spelman. Gross received a track-and-field scholarship.

But they both know of friends who still saddled with student loans many years later.

This contest may only help three individuals, but it also enables Gross and Pulliam to lift up the power of HBCUs. Gross noted that Vice President Kamala Harris is also a Howard graduate. And Pulliam mentioned Stacey Abrams, a fellow Spelman grad. Both plan to meet the contest winners, at least virtually.

Pulliam, who has become a regular participant in the Lifetime Christmas movie tradition, is not just an actor but also an entrepreneur. She has been working on a venture fund with Arian Simone called the Fearless Fund to help early-stage businesses run by women of color. Started in 2019 with $5 million, the fund has now raised $25 million and has invested in six different businesses so far. They are also holding virtual classes to help teach women business owners how to raise funds and build their businesses.

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