‘A Different World’ Hits the Road to Help Historically Black Colleges

Picture a pampered socialite ostentatiously putting her generational wealth on display. Or an outspoken teenage activist leading a climate change protest. Or a charismatic opportunist luring people into his latest scam.

These descriptions apply equally to characters from “A Different World” — a sitcom that ran from 1987 to 1993 — and to today’s social media influencers. So it’s little wonder that the show, which streams on Amazon and Max, resonates with Gen Z.

The series began as a spinoff of “The Cosby Show” centered on Denise Huxtable (Lisa Bonet), and it became a hit in its own right.

“A Different World” broke ground by giving high visibility to an ensemble of aspirational Black young adults, following an eclectic cross-section of coeds attending Hillman College, a fictional historically Black university. There they dealt with typical collegiate growing pains — studying, partying, falling in love and stumbling into adulthood — and also with more serious subject matter, including racism, domestic abuse, gun violence, homelessness and mental health struggles.

“These things mattered, and these are issues which are still relevant today,” said Darryl M. Bell, who played the Hillman huckster Ron Johnson.

Now, more than three decades after the series finale, Bell and other core cast members, including Charnele Brown, Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Dawnn Lewis, Cree Summer and Glynn Turman, have reunited for a campus tour of historically Black colleges and universities. Their mission is to raise awareness and enrollment for such institutions, to establish a “Different World” scholarship fund and, of course, to give newer, younger fans a chance to see their parents’ hand-me-down TV idols in person.

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