A Different World Cast turns 35 years old. On this day in 1987, the classic sitcom, A Different World, debuted on NBC.
The show was a spin-off of The Cosby Show. The sitcom followed Denise Huxtable, played by Lisa Bonet, as she enters the fictional HBCU Hillman College, located in Virginia.
Although it was called A Different World the life resonated with many in the Black community. Furthermore, it was one of few shows portraying young African Americans in a positive way. But also, the show aired highlights of attending Historical Black Colleges and Universities in this country.
As young adults, A Different World cast dealt with many issues not discussed during The Cosby Show. Tougher topics included race and class relations, sexual assault, and the epidemiology of HIV/AIDS. This shift in content is heavily attributed to the arrival of Debbie Allen, who served as a producer for the show in its second season.
The Different World Cast and crew included, Glynn Turman as Col. Bradford ‘Brad’ Taylor, as well as Dawnn Lewis as Jaleesa Vinson Taylor, and Lou Myers as Vernon Gaines.
Some of the main stars also included Lisa Bonet known as Denise Huxtable, Jasmine Guy as Whitley Gilbert, Kadeem Hardison and Dwayne Wayne, Dawnn Lewis, Cree Summer, Darryl M. Bell, Charnele Brown, Glynn Turman, and Jada Pinkett-Smith, along with a long list of other actors, actresses, and special guest stars.
Lisa Bonet departed in the first season. Therefore, the remainder of the series primarily focused more on Gilbert and Wayne’s relationship as they navigated college life at Hillman College.
Although the show came to an end in 1993 it was more than an impact on today’s society. During their six-season airing, they show received stellar reviews on NBC. The crew members are still a powerful staple as popularized icons of successful Black sitcoms.
Many of them went on to land successful roles in life.
Lisa Bonet, known as Denise Huxtable, leads as an iconic beauty of Blackness. Her impact left impression on big stars today, like Beyonce who dresses as Bonet during 2019 Halloween season. Jay Z even spoke about her during his rap lyrics to “Marcy Me”.
The Emmy Award-nominated actress took a step back from acting after her departure from A Different World. She returned back to Hollywood in 1998 with her appearance in Enemy of the State. In subsequent years, she had roles in High Fidelity, Biker Boyz, and Road to Paloma.
Jasmine Guy, who played Whitley Gilbert, the Southern Belle of Hillman came from an affluent family who had dorms on campus named after them. She came to college spoiled, but eventually became more selfless as the series progressed. Her and Dwayne Wayne develop an on-and-off relationship throughout the show, which resulted in their marriage in season 5
While on A Different World, Guy also had starred in the films School Daze and Harlem Nights. She also appeared in several stage plays, in addition to writing the biography of Afeni Shakur. Guy had recent roles in Grey’s Anatomy and the Amazon Prime show Harlem.
Kadeem Hardison played the role of Dwayne Wayne. who known for his trademark flip up eyeglasses/shades, this Brooklyn native appeared in all six seasons of A Different World. He eventually marries his longtime love interest Whitley Gilbert.
Hardison has maintained a steady acting career throughout the years. He has starred in films such as Vampire in Brooklyn, Panther, the 6th Man, and Life is not a Fairytale: The Fantasia Barrino Story. He has also established himself as a tenured actor in television. This year alone, he had roles in Grown-ish, The Lincoln Lawyer, and Moonhaven.
Darryl M. Bell played the role of Ronald Johnson. Ron appeared in every season of A Different World. The funny musician and ROTC student loved women and was the best friend of Dwayne Wayne.
Cree Summer who played the role of Freddie Brook also the Afrocentric roommate of Jaleesa, Freddie rose to prominence in the second season of A Different World and became a fan favorite until the show ended in 1993.
Aside from acting, Summer has one of the most notable voices in the entertainment industry. She has had voice-over roles in several animated films, TV shows, and video games. Some recognize her voice as Cleo from “Clifford the Big Red Dog”. She also voices Susie Carmichael from the Rugrats, plus many more hit cartoon series. Summer also appeared in two episodes of OWN’s Queen Sugar in 2019.
Dawnn Lewis played the role of 25-year-old, Jaleesa Vinson-Taylor who enrolled at Hillman after a failed marriage. Taylor’s bold, and mature character assisted her schoolmates and friends navigating the college experience.
Lewis – who almost co-wrote the theme to A Different World – left the show after season 5 to star in ABC’s Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. She also had voice over performances in many Marvel video games and appeared in Grey’s Anatomy earlier this year.
Charnele Brown played the role as Kimberly Reese. Her debut came in the second season of the show. She played overachieving biology student and Whitley’s roommate and best friend.
Since A Different World, Brown appeared as a guest on Living Single, Martin, My Wife and Kids, and Girlfriends. She also owned her own acting school in Houston, TX. Her future projects according to IMDB include working on the Kelley Williams Bollar story, as well as a project called Broken Heroes, that tells the story of a soldier mentally effected by war, on the brink of suicide.
David “Sinbad” Atkins played the role of Coach Walter Oakes. Walter coached multiple sports teams at Hillman. He was also the dorm director of Matthews Hall. He became involved in a serious relationship with Jaleesa during season 2.
The stand-up comic known as Sinbad appeared in some classic 90s films such as Meteor Man, Houseguest, First Kid, Jingle All the Way, and Good Burger. He was also part of the main cast in the Fox sitcom, Rel. Sinbad executive produced a short in 2006 called Coda. Additionally, he played the voice of Ropa on the 2013 hit “Planes”.
Jada Pinkett-Smith, played. Lena James named after singer Lena Horne. James was from Baltimore, Maryland. She possessed a strong personality. Pinkett-Smith was roommates with Gina Deveaux and Charmaine Brown during the last season of A Different World and was also a journalism major.
Pinkett-Smith went on to star in films such as Menace II Society, The Nutty Professor, Set It Off, and Scream 2, before appearing in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. She returned to television in 2009 with starring roles on Hawthorne and Gotham, and also had a standout performance in the instant classic Girls Trip. She is also the wife of Will Smith, and mother of Jaden and Willow Smith.
Glynn Turman played the role of Colonel Bradford Taylor. Colonel Taylor was a career U.S. Army man friend of Vernon Gaines. He was also the mathematics professor on campus, as well as Hillman’s ROTC instructor. He eventually dates and marries Jaleesa Vinson.
With an acting career spanning over 60 years, Turman has become influential to the next generation of Black entertainers. After A Different World, he appeared on The Wire, House of Lies, and Black-ish. Turman portrayed Doctor Senator in the fourth season of the FX series Fargo, also starred alongside Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 2020.
Lou Myers portrayed the character, Vernon Gaines. Often referred to as Mr. Gaines, Vernon was the owner and manager of the Hillman College restaurant called The Pit. He was a veteran, and friends with Colonel Bradford Taylor.