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The cast of ‘A Different World’ launch HBCU tour to fund scholarships and boost enrollment

<i>Brandon Rashad/A Different World Tour via CNN Newsource</i><br/>The cast of 'A Different World' has reunited after 35 years to visit HBCUs and fund scholarships.
Brandon Rashad/A Different World Tour via CNN Newsource
The cast of 'A Different World' has reunited after 35 years to visit HBCUs and fund scholarships.

By Justin Gamble, CNN

(CNN) — After 35 years, the cast of “A Different World” has reunited on a tour of historically Black colleges and universities to promote enrollment and raise scholarship funding for current and future students.

“A Different World” was a spin-off of “The Cosby Show” that followed Denise Huxtable’s character, played by Lisa Bonet, as she attended Hillman College, a fictional HBCU in Virginia.

The “A Different World HBCU College Tour 2024” kicked off Thursday at the Atlanta University Center as the cast visited Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College.

Cast members on the tour include Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Dawnn Lewis, Glynn Turman, Cree Summer, Charnele Brown and Darryl Bell.

Bell, who played Ron Johnson on the sitcom, helped organize the tour. He told CNN he sees the campus visits as an opportunity to honor the legacy of the show and introduce a new generation to HBCUs.

“Not a day goes by, for all of us who were involved with the show, where someone doesn’t come up to us and say, ‘I went to an HBCU because I watched ‘A Different World,’” Bell said.

Bell told CNN it’s important for young Black students to consider attending HBCUs because they will not only get a great education, but there’s also a special sense of family.

“HBCUs have produced some of our greatest leaders, greatest minds and greatest thinkers,” Bell said, adding that at HBCUs “there’s an investment that is much more personal.”

Notable HBCU alumni include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Kamala Harris, Spike Lee, Oprah Winfrey, Thurgood Marshall, Samuel L. Jackson and Booker T. Washington.

After the cast visited Spelman, Helene Gayle, the president of the college, posted on X that “it was only fitting that they chose to kick off their HBCU College Tour at Spelman,” as several buildings on campus were used in the show to depict the fictional Hillman College.

“A Different World” was also known for tackling difficult and controversial subjects, and students had an opportunity to ask the cast about their experience filming the show during a Q&A session, according to CNN affiliate WXIA.

Kadeem Hardison, who played Dwayne Wayne in the show, recalled one of his favorite episodes, which tackled race relations.

“We got into kind of a racial tension argument, beef, with these White guys and they put us in jail,” Hardison told the audience. “And we had some good talks, some good listening and some good dialogue between all of us. And what it showed was that we’ll get much further if we listen — if you listen to people and you try and see it from their point of view, it will help you understand them better.”

Bell told CNN he’s amazed at the impact the show – and the fictional Hillman College – has had on influencing students to attend HBCUs.

“The only sad thing about ‘A Different World’ is the same frequency with which folks come up and say, I want to apply to Hillman. And I’m like, I’m sorry, that’s where we able to draw the line.  Hillman is not real; you cannot go to Hillman.  You could go to Hampton, you go to Howard, there’s some other choices. But Hillman is not in the cards,” Bell told CNN.

HBCU enrollment increased 26% between 1976 and 1994, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But the agency noted, “virtually all of the increase occurred between 1986 and 1994.”

“A Different World” aired from 1987 until 1993.

In April, the tour will visit Howard University, Alabama State University and Tuskegee University. Throughout the tour, students will be invited to participate in seminars on financial literacy, career coaching and networking. The cast will also hold voter registration drives on campuses to increase civic participation ahead of the 2024 election.

“The need for Black, Brown and poor people to be registered to vote and have their voices heard is essential,” Bell told CNN.

He said the tour has received requests to visit some predominately White colleges and universities as well.

“Some of the largest schools, while not HBCUs, have large African American and Hispanic communities that want to be engaged with us in our content,” he said.

So far, the tour has raised $50,000 in scholarship funding and has set a goal to raise $1 million by the end of the tour.

But ultimately, Bell said, the tour is about inspiring future generations to keep the legacy of HBCUs – even fictional ones like Hillman College – alive.

“It’s about having an opportunity, about having a pathway to a career,” he said.

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