Last week marked the 25th anniversary of A Different World. It's hard to believe that 25 years ago I was glued to the television in my parent's condo awaiting the premiere of the highly anticipated Cosby Show spinoff.
Like millions across the country I loved The Cosby Show. I desperately wanted to be their neighbor and come over to their house for bacon burger dogs!
I still entertain dreams of moving my wife to Brooklyn Heights on a quest for the Cosby dream--kids, a brownstone, and community engagement. The Cosby's taught us so much without being a public service announcement. The consequences of underage drinking and getting our ears pierced in a garage, and being "regular" -- remember Theo's soliloquy about how he would thrive working at a gas station so he didn't need to do well in math?
So, with bated breath I waited for the premiere of A Different World -- Hillman here we come!
I grew up on Long Island in a predominately white suburb. When a ranking of diverse school districts came out in our local paper, Sachem school district, where I attended, was ranked as 96% white. So, aside from my family, the Cosby's were my only window into what the black family and what black excellence looked like.
If it weren't for the Cosby's I wouldn't have known what a Historically Black College or University was. I was so thirsty for African American history watching these shows that I called my school board when I was a Sophomore in high school and asked the president of the board why my school didn't offer African American History as an elective. Of course he came up with a range of BS reasons, but I took him to task on his answer that "history includes the black experience".
Thanks toA Different World and the Cosby's I knew that history was the black experience. We weren't just a few pages in a 700 page textbook -- we warranted much, much more. Not only did the Cosby's give us a lawyer and a doctor, when we packed up our bags and moved from Brooklyn to Hillman they gave us the world. Hillman gave us mathematicians, artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, judges, military officials, Senators etc.
Hillman taught us that knowledge was power and the world was ours to seize.
It was because of this powerful show I went on the Black College Bus Tour from NY to Atlanta as a junior in high school -- searching for the Hillman experience.
The cast of the show were so invested in their school and the constant message of mentor-ship that Michelle Obama echoed on stage at the DNC: "When you walk through the door of opportunity you don't close the door, you reach back."
The Cosby's and the Hillman kids made me and the rest of my generation want to strive to be more than "regular" -- they challenged us each week to reach for excellence.
I only wish that there were more shows today that didn't glorify foolishness and buffoonery; that instead of playing up stereotypes for ratings (I'm looking at you Tyler Perry and TBS) that they would instead defy them with their authenticity and genuine desire to provide opportunities to a generation.
If you can see it, you can achieve it--that's why I'm still working towards my Brownstone, because the Cosby's showed me I could have it.