THE MOST IMPORTANT EPISODES A DIFFERENT WORLD
"OOoOoo, I know my parents love me. Stand behind me come what may." If the run at the opening of the A Different World doesn't excite you, you're not an alumni of Hillman College. A Different World had the charm and sophistication of The Cosby Show with the relatability and humor of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air arguably making it the most important show ever created for us and by us. Hillman affirmed that it is never too late to pursue higher education through Jalessa Vincent, told us that being smart is attractive when Dwayne Wayne consistently used his perfect math SAT score as a pick-up line, encouraged entrepreneurship with the schemes of Ron Johnson, confirmed that hard work pays off by depicting the unparalleled hustle of Kimberly Reese, told us to be ourselves and be for others when we were introduced to Freddie Brooks and showed us that our varied life experiences shouldn't stop us from connecting with others when we met the iconic Whitley Gilbert. Put all of that together and you have a formula for Black excellence. During the six seasons the show aired HBCU enrollment grew by 24.3 percent and the rate in which black people pursued higher education climbed as well. So, welcome to orientation and let class begin.
Season 2 - Episode 11 "It Happened One Night"
This episode is so important because it was a lesson about actions and the consequences to follow. Kim and her bae at the time Robert have a pregnancy scare and begin to explore their options moving forward which included abortion and that topic was discussed in a very objective and mature manner. On a lighter note, watching Kim's friends decide how they were going to divvy up their babysitting duties was an adorable moment of true friendship. "It Happened One Night" is a lesson in growing up, thinking ahead, and taking responsibility. Impulse can change your life.
Season 2 - Episode 20 "No Means No"
No means no - simple yet when not understood spells disaster for too many. Freddie Brooks vies for the attention of, Garth Parks, the man of her dreams who proves to be a nightmare for the women of Hillman College. This episode was both honest and informative. It brought attention to the red flags of sexual abusers and confronted the rationale behind rape culture that blurs the lines of consent. Arguably the most important part of this episode was Dwayne Wayne confronting the problematic behavior of a friend. Too often, we excuse the actions of those close to us and never hold them accountable for their victimization of others.
Season 2 - Episode 21 "Citizen Wayne"
It's election season at Hillman College and presidential candidate Dwayne Wayne has trouble getting campus to care about serious issues. Sound familiar? It seems that sometimes, as we find our balance between youth and adulthood, we try not to take things too seriously. This episode is a lesson in leadership and purpose, two traits that often cause us to march alone. Jesse Jackson's speech to the student body is a word for millennials feeling discouraged and defeated with the progress our generation has been charged with materializing. It is laced with motivation about the feats those before us have accomplished and an affirmation that within ourselves we have the tools to be the change we wish to see. Oh, and the Khandi Alexander cameo and dance number was perfection.
Season 3 - Episode 12 "Here's to Old Friends"
If you've been on twitter at all since 2009 you've logged in during a PWI vs. HBCU debate. Well, A Different World was ahead of the curve when they aired an episode in 1990 where an old friend of Dwayne's visits Hillman from Penn and proceeds to trash the school and Ron with little discretion. Now, like most negropeans, his perspective was that HBCU's don't measure up academically or socially. Toward the end of the episode Dwayne schools his friend in basketball, Black pride and the incomparable accomplishments of HBCU alumni. #KeepInTouch
Season 3 - Episode 15 "Success, Lies, and Videotape"
*clears throat* "They ask me what I do and who I do it for." This episode opens with Hillman College welcoming Clair Huxtable to campus for a job interview workshop. While Dwayne, Ron, Whitley, Kim and Jaleesa picture themselves a few years in the future, our girl Freddie flips the script and shares that she is at Hillman for an education and not a job. Her short convo with Clair Huxtable provides much needed perspective. Many of us arrived on college campuses because it seemed like the next step with majors we thought would provide some type of return for the tuition being paid. We run to campus because the horror stories about what our lives will be like without a degree are chasing us, not for personal progress. As soon as we turn the tassel, often facing a mountain of debt, we enter the workforce without the luxury of considering purpose when cashing a paycheck. It's easy to get caught in the rat race of "making it" but it's important to focus on not what you'll acquire but what you'll leave behind.
sn: Freddie also found a stop on the Underground Railroad which is both very nice and very Black.
Season 4 - Episode 17 "Ms. Understanding"
Act like a Lady, Think like a Hillman Man. "Ms. Understanding" focuses on a supporting character and sixth-year student Shazza Zulu and his self-published guide to understanding the Hillman man. Now that I think of it, Steve Harvey should have a lawsuit coming his way because Shazza did it first. As tensions between men and women grow, Kim Reese and her white bae become an example of what can happen when Black men aren't made, by hook or crook, to be and do better. The best part of this episode is Kim Reese's handling of Shazza after he puts her on front street. There isn't anything concrete to be taken away from this episode more so reflection about how we view Black love and how negative perceptions about ourselves and each other effect the way we interact. Bottom line: if if doesn't help, it hinders.
Season 4 - Episode 23 "If I Should Die Before I Wake"
Aids is a topic that was never discussed on primetime before A Different World although it plagues the U.S. Not only did ADW humanize the epidemic but it also exposed the common myths and assumptions about those positive with it with tact, brevity, and carefully placed statistics. Tisha Campbell makes a guest appearance as a student tasked with writing her own eulogy. All roads lead to a very powerful speech about choosing life and being a voice in this world with the time we are given.
Season 5 - Episode 11 "Mammy Dearest"
This controversial episode surrounds the caricature Mammy and her inclusion in a dorm dedication program. Like, "nigga" Whitley and Freddie believe that Mammy is part of their culture and only represents negativity if she is not reclaimed and re-appropriated. Lena and Kim don't support the ownership of something used to demean them throughout history. Both are right. The episode ends with a powerful illustration of Nikki Giovanni's masterful "Ego-Trippin."
sn. Whitley finds out that her family used to own slaves which is not very nice nor very Black.
Season 5 - Episode 14 "Cats in the Cradle"
It's the same old story, it never changes. - a line said by Dwayne when he and Ron end up in jail after a racially charged fight with three white students from a rival school. Ongoing prejudiced statements are made by one of the three white students before another goes on a rant about Dwayne, Ron, and Black people having no respect. Before the after-school-special ending about tolerance and judging everyone as an individual, insight is given into the minds of the Darren Wilson's of the world. Dwayne and Ron both deliver honest portrayals of what it means to be Black in America.
Season 5 - Episode 15 "Prisoner of Love"
Love all or love none. When Freddie's prison pen pal arrives on campus true colors and true bias show. Everyone has a visceral negative reaction to the ex-con after finding out his status. People who previously embraced him now treat him as a pariah including Freddie who invited him to Hillman. The same children we march for we wouldn't always trust. At times, we are guilty of the same conditioning that oppresses us. On one hand it's natural self-preservation and on the other it's hypocritical. We talk about systematic racism and pipelines that lead to prison and then judge others for falling victim to it. As a vulnerable Black woman I don't have the answers but I acknowledge the double standard.
Season 5 - Episode 22 "Love Taps"
Domestic violence is put under a spotlight when Gina's popular rapper boyfriend begins abusing her physically and verbally. She doesn't leave immediately and so the psyche of a battered woman is explored. The writers were mindful enough to include that abusers are sometimes former victims themselves without making excuses. Again, stats are worked into the conversation and real advice is given for women who find themselves in similar situations.
Season 6 - Episodes 1 & 2 "Honeymoon in L.A. Part 1 & 2"
After Dwayne sh*ts on Papa Pope's wedding to Whitley, they honeymoon in LA and are caught in the Rodney King riots. Between Dwayne's police encounter and run-in with looters, a Sister Soulja segment, discussions about nation building, politics, and white people in addition to Lena and Freddie's debate about being a secret weapon versus a sellout this is a loaded episode worth watching a few times over.
Season 6 - Episode 11 "Original Teacher"
The best part of this episode is that Dwayne Wayne tells his two mentees, at risk youth, that they can be president in 1992 the year President Barack Obama married his, eventual, First Lady Michelle Robinson. This episode focuses on vision, goals and unity. To me, the silver lining is when one menteee shares that he wants to be a garbage man and receives a positive response. Often we box our youth in and don't give kudos for making an honest living. Judging success by money and power is partially what drives crime and college students, but one is deemed more respectable than the other.
Season 6 - Episode 22 "Homie Ya Don't Know Me"
Change is inevitable; growth is optional. Tupac makes a greatly appreciated appearance as Lena's old flame from back home, Picollo. After a nightclub brawl Lena has to face the harsh realities that people grow apart over time. It's something we all have to deal with choosing which relationships to work on and which ones to walk away from.
Season 6 - Episode 23 "Great X-pectations"
Brother Malcolm gave us respect and Martin gave us rights. I don't think either would have been as successful without the other coexisting separately. This episode relates the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement to more modern issues. Special attention is given to what security means for Black people from the perspective of Malcolm and the hope of a better tomorrow through Martin's eyes. Neither stance is given more attention than the other as both are necessary. The ongoing debate between the two minds is played out through when promising freshman, Terrel, faces expulsion after being caught with a gun on campus.
What are some of your favorite episodes or A Different World moments?