From left, Kim Coles, Darryl M. Bell, Dawnn Lewis, Glynn Turman, Cree Summer, Charnele Brown, Jasmine Guy and Kadeem Hardison at Howard University on April 9 stop of the A Different World tour. Photo: Nisa Islam Muhammad

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The year is 1987 and Denise Huxtable, the daughter on the number one show at the time, The Cosby Show, is headed to Hillman College, a fictional historically Black institution in Virginia.

This led to the spin-off show, “A Different World,” which centered on Denise Huxtable’s life as a college student and the lives of other students at Hillman College. The show was an instant success and immediately climbed the charts often as the number two show in America, following The Cosby Show.

Thirty-five years later, the cast is on a 10-city HBCU tour to introduce to some and present to others how the show helped propel HBCU culture into the spotlight. The entire cast, featuring Darryl M. Bell, Charnele Brown, Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison, Dawnn Lewis, Cree Summer, and Glynn Turman are on board for the tour.  

The tour started in Atlanta at the Atlanta University Center—home to Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College and Spelman College. 


“Our mission goes beyond nostalgia. We’re on a quest to raise awareness and enrollment for HBCUs nationwide. By leveraging the star power and cultural impact of “A Different World,” we aim to inspire a new generation to choose HBCUs as their academic homes,” the tour’s website states. “We’re not just telling a story; we’re rewriting the narrative.”

Mr. Bell, who played Ron Johnson on the show, helped organize the tour. He explained that the campus visits are 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,’” Mr. Bell said.

“HBCUs have produced some of our greatest leaders, greatest minds and greatest thinkers,” he said, adding that at HBCUs “there’s an investment that is much more personal.”  The tour will also raise money for scholarships, “ensuring that more students can access the transformative experience of HBCUs.”

In addition to an evening program, the cast visited Spelman College. Dr. Helene Gayle, the president of the college, posted on X, “The entire @Spelman College community was excited and proud to welcome the cast of “A Different World” to campus.

It was only fitting that they chose to kick off their HBCU College Tour at Spelman, which was the visual backdrop for the iconic show.” Several buildings on Spelman’s campus were used in the show to represent the fictional Hillman College.

The next stop on the tour was Howard University on April 9 where the panel was hosted by actress and comedian Kim Coles. The cast was welcomed by a standing-room-only crowd with many holding up cardboard heads of the characters from “A Different World.” 

The cast of “A Different World” with Howard University President Ben Vinson III. Photo:

In addition to the cast, Howard alum, Debbie Allen, the show’s director and executive producer, participated via a video link. She referred to Howard as “the blueprint for ‘A Different World,’ if anything was.”

Cast members thanked her for leading them to a different world as writers and directors of the show’s episodes. She also encouraged them to do everything possible to become members of Hollywood directors and writers’ guilds before leaving the show. 

“A Different World” became a cultural icon. Howard University President Ben Vinson III told the crowd as a high school student, he often organized his homework schedule to ensure he could watch the show.  “You spurred a profound interest into everything our historically Black colleges and universities have to offer,” Dr. Vinson told the cast members.

“Even 35 years later, there are undergraduates on our campuses who cite ‘A Different World’ as a reason for considering pursuing an HBCU education.”  

The life at fictional Hillman College became goals for numerous Blacks growing up watching. The show is credited with increasing awareness about and enrollment at HBCUs nationwide.

It inspired increasing numbers of students to choose HBCUs for their college experience.  According to a CNN report, HBCU enrollment soared 26 percent between 1976 and 1994, with nearly all of the increase occurring between 1986 and 1994. “A Different World” aired from 1987 until 1993. 

Both “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World” were ratings superstars, often appearing in the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the weekly Nielson charts.

Besides impacting enrollment, “A Different World” tackled controversial topics like HIV/AIDS, date rape and military service. On the eve of the Iraq War in the early 1990s, they aired a show that discussed the impact of war on young Black people who leave one way and come back another way.  

“We had great writers. They put us in positions to have conversations about things I didn’t expect to see,” said Kadeem Hardison, who played Dwayne Wayne. “On date rape, I never had that conversation with my father. To have it on television in front of the world was really special.” 

The show also dealt with stereotypes and biases. Charnele Brown, who played Kimberly Reese, was a straight-A student headed to medical school.  In addition to classes, she pledged a sorority. She spoke on the issue of colorism and what her character meant to other dark-skinned young women. 

“I am so overwhelmed about representing the chocolate sisters; I didn’t know I was doing it at the time,” she said to thunderous applause. “Now I want to thank you all so much for the love.” 

Dwayne Wayne was another seeming anomaly. He was a two-sport athlete, baseball and track, a math tutor and member of the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. For more information on the, A Different World Tour, visit