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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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Alumni Spotlight

Alabama State University Forges Historic Partnership with Neuberger Berman for $125 Million Endowment

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Alabama State University (ASU) is making waves in the realm of higher education with a monumental partnership that is set to redefine the landscape of financial support for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). In a historic move, ASU has joined forces with the renowned private equity firm Neuberger Berman to manage the institution’s impressive $125 million endowment – marking the largest such collaboration between a Wall Street firm and a public HBCU to date.

This groundbreaking partnership represents far more than just a financial transaction; it signifies a powerful alignment of values, vision, and commitment to advancing education and opportunity for students of all backgrounds. For ASU President Quinton T. Ross, Jr., the collaboration with Neuberger Berman is nothing short of a “blessing” and a testament to the transformative impact it promises to bring to ASU and its community.

Through this partnership, ASU gains access to the expertise, resources, and global network of Neuberger Berman, empowering the institution to maximize the impact of its endowment in support of its mission of academic excellence and student success. With a focus on strategic investment and prudent financial management, ASU aims to leverage this partnership to enhance scholarship opportunities, faculty development initiatives, and campus infrastructure projects.

President Ross expressed his deep appreciation for the overwhelmingly positive impact of the partnership, highlighting the immense potential it holds for the future of ASU and its students. He emphasized that the collaboration with Neuberger Berman reflects ASU’s unwavering commitment to providing world-class educational experiences and opportunities for its diverse student body.

The significance of this partnership extends far beyond the confines of ASU’s campus, resonating throughout the broader HBCU community and beyond. By forging new pathways for collaboration between academia and the financial sector, ASU and Neuberger Berman are paving the way for increased investment in HBCUs and fostering greater equity and inclusion in higher education.

As ASU embarks on this exciting new chapter in its storied history, the university remains dedicated to its core values of excellence, integrity, and innovation. With the support of Neuberger Berman and the collective efforts of its faculty, staff, students, and alumni, ASU is poised to continue making a profound impact on the lives of individuals and communities alike.

In the journey toward a brighter, more equitable future for higher education, partnerships like the one between Alabama State University and Neuberger Berman serve as beacons of hope and inspiration. Together, they are demonstrating the power of collaboration, innovation, and shared purpose in driving positive change and unlocking new opportunities for generations to come.

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Alumni Spotlight

Embracing Excellence: A Salute to HBCU Grads Across the Nation!

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In the heart of bustling cities and nestled in the serene landscapes of the South, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) stand as beacons of opportunity, empowerment, and community. As another academic year draws to a close, it’s time to honor and celebrate the incredible achievements of the graduates who have walked the halls of these esteemed institutions. So, to all the HBCU grads, from Howard University to Xavier University of Louisiana, from Alabama State University to Delaware State University, we extend our warmest congratulations!

Each HBCU holds a unique place in the tapestry of American higher education, nurturing the minds and spirits of students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. From the vibrant campus life of Florida A&M University to the rich cultural heritage of Hampton University, from the innovative spirit of North Carolina A&T State University to the historic legacy of Tuskegee University, these institutions have played a vital role in shaping the leaders, scholars, and trailblazers of tomorrow.

To the graduates of Bowie State University, Claflin University, and Dillard University, among others, your journey has been marked by moments of triumph, resilience, and growth. As you prepare to embark on the next chapter of your lives, armed with knowledge, passion, and determination, know that the entire HBCU community stands behind you, cheering you on every step of the way.

To the faculty, staff, and administrators who have dedicated themselves to nurturing the academic and personal development of HBCU students, we express our deepest gratitude for your unwavering support and commitment to excellence.

As you don your caps and gowns, prepare to walk across the stage, and accept your hard-earned diplomas, remember the values instilled in you by your alma mater: integrity, scholarship, and service. Whether you’re entering the workforce, pursuing advanced degrees, or blazing new trails in entrepreneurship and innovation, carry the spirit of HBCU pride with you wherever you go.

To the parents, families, and communities who have stood by your side, offering love, encouragement, and unwavering belief in your potential, we celebrate your sacrifices and contributions to the success of these remarkable graduates.

And to the future generations of HBCU students, may you be inspired by the achievements of those who have come before you, and may you continue to honor the legacy of excellence and achievement that defines the HBCU experience.

Congratulations, HBCU grads! Your accomplishments are a testament to your hard work, dedication, and resilience. As you set forth to make your mark on the world, remember that the sky is the limit, and the HBCU community stands ready to support you every step of the way. Here’s to a bright and promising future filled with endless possibilities!

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Controversy Brews as President Biden Takes Morehouse Commencement Stage: Should He or Shouldn’t He?

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President Joe Biden’s upcoming commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta has ignited a heated debate across social media platforms and within academic circles. Scheduled to address the graduating class of 2024, Biden’s presence at the historically Black institution has stirred controversy, with passionate arguments on both sides of the aisle.

While some laud the symbolism of the President’s visit to one of the nation’s most prestigious historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), others question the sincerity of his commitment to addressing systemic issues facing Black communities. Critics argue that Biden’s track record on racial justice and education falls short, citing concerns such as the slow progress on student loan forgiveness and the lack of substantial funding for HBCUs.

Supporters of Biden’s appearance at Morehouse point to the significance of his presence as a powerful statement of solidarity with the Black community, particularly amidst ongoing struggles for racial equity and justice. They argue that his address offers an opportunity to engage with and uplift the voices of young Black graduates, acknowledging their achievements and the challenges they face as they enter the workforce.

However, skeptics question whether Biden’s rhetoric will be backed by meaningful action, emphasizing the need for tangible policy changes that address the root causes of inequality and discrimination. Some argue that his presence at Morehouse could be perceived as mere performative allyship, without substantive policy initiatives to support Black students and communities.

As the debate rages on, one thing remains clear: President Biden’s commencement address at Morehouse College has sparked important conversations about the intersection of symbolism and substance in the fight for racial justice and equity. Whether his speech will mark a transformative moment or serve as another footnote in the ongoing struggle for equality is yet to be seen. But one thing is certain: the eyes of the nation will be watching closely as Biden takes the stage in Atlanta.

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2024 Annual National HBCU Week Conference

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The Initiative will host the 2024 Annual National HBCU Week Conference September 15-19, 2024, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Aligning with the Department’s “Raise the Bar: Lead the World” call to action, the Initiative will continue to identify and target tangible opportunities that would connect federal and private resources to the HBCU community.  To that end, the conference will feature the sixth annual Career and Recruitment Fair, celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the HBCU Scholar Program, the always exciting Federal Agency Meet & Greet, and feature 50+ sessions and workshops grouped into the following paths of engagement:

Career Pathways and Economic Mobility: This track is designed to maximize programs, resources, and initiatives that support the recruitment of HBCU talent, human capital, and career advancement opportunities.

Research and Innovation: This track is designed to expand research capacity and opportunities within federal agencies, private and nonprofit organizations for HBCUs. It is an opportunity to showcase innovation through partnerships that involve HBCUs, its faculty and its students.

Economic Development: This track will provide information on how HBCUs can leverage partnerships that advance opportunities to promote the economic wealth of the HBCU and the communities they serve.

STEAM: Exploring evidence-based tools and innovative practices in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. 

Infrastructure: Broadening access to resources that provides equitable support to mitigate, enhance and sustain physical and technological infrastructure.

Executive Leadership: Invitation only engagements for Presidents and their executive leadership.

Emerging Leaders: Formulated for students and entry to mid-level professionals.

Event Information                 

Conference Content (Coming Soon)

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Authors Who Impacted HBCU Schools

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At HBCU Original, we proudly recognize the profound influence of literature on the landscape of Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Join us as we explore the lives and works of notable authors who have left an indelible mark on HBCU campuses, shaping the intellectual and cultural fabric of these institutions.

1. Zora Neale Hurston – Barnard College (Attended Howard University for Bachelor’s): Zora Neale Hurston, renowned for her groundbreaking novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” spent formative years at Howard University. Her vibrant prose and exploration of African American folklore continue to inspire students and scholars at HBCUs, illuminating the complexities of Black identity and experience.

2. Toni Morrison – Howard University (Late): Toni Morrison, a Nobel laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winning author, served as an esteemed faculty member at Howard University early in her career. Her novels, including “Beloved” and “The Bluest Eye,” resonate deeply with students and faculty, fostering critical dialogue on race, memory, and resilience within HBCU communities.

3. Langston Hughes – Lincoln University (Late): Langston Hughes, a pivotal figure in the Harlem Renaissance, attended Lincoln University, where he honed his craft as a poet, playwright, and essayist. His works, such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and “Montage of a Dream Deferred,” continue to be studied and celebrated on HBCU campuses for their profound social commentary and lyrical beauty.

4. Alice Walker – Spelman College: Alice Walker, acclaimed author of “The Color Purple,” is a proud alumna of Spelman College. Her literary activism and exploration of Black womanhood have resonated deeply within HBCU communities, inspiring generations of students to engage critically with issues of race, gender, and power.

5. James Baldwin – The New School (Attended Howard University for 2 years): James Baldwin, though he didn’t graduate from an HBCU, spent formative years at Howard University. His powerful essays and novels, such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “The Fire Next Time,” continue to provoke thought and inspire activism among students and scholars at HBCUs, urging them to confront systemic injustice and embrace the power of storytelling as a tool for social change.

6. Ralph Ellison – Tuskegee University (Late): Ralph Ellison, author of the seminal novel “Invisible Man,” attended Tuskegee University, where he was influenced by the teachings of Booker T. Washington. His exploration of identity, invisibility, and racial prejudice continues to resonate with students and faculty at HBCUs, prompting critical reflections on the complexities of Black existence in America.

7. Nella Larsen – Fisk University (Attended University of Copenhagen for Nursing): Nella Larsen, a groundbreaking novelist of the Harlem Renaissance, attended Fisk University before pursuing nursing studies in Copenhagen. Her novels, including “Quicksand” and “Passing,” offer incisive critiques of racial passing and societal expectations, prompting meaningful discussions on identity and authenticity within HBCU classrooms.

8. Gwendolyn Brooks – Wilson Junior College (Attended Wilson Junior College for 2 years): Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, attended Wilson Junior College before transferring to a predominantly white institution. Her poetry, infused with themes of racial injustice and urban life, continues to inspire students and faculty at HBCUs, fostering a deeper understanding of Black lived experiences.

9. Nikki Giovanni – Fisk University: Nikki Giovanni, acclaimed poet, activist, and educator, is a proud alumna of Fisk University. Her bold, unapologetic verses on love, race, and social justice have resonated deeply within HBCU communities, inspiring generations of students to find their voice and speak truth to power.

10. August Wilson – University of Pittsburgh (Attended Central State University for 1 semester): August Wilson, renowned playwright and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, briefly attended Central State University before transferring. His powerful cycle of plays, including “Fences” and “The Piano Lesson,” explore the African American experience with depth and humanity, leaving an indelible impact on HBCU students and scholars who study his work.

These notable authors have not only enriched the literary landscape but have also contributed to the intellectual vibrancy of HBCU campuses, inspiring generations of students to engage critically with issues of race, identity, and social justice. At HBCU Original, we honor their enduring legacies and celebrate their profound impact on the world of literature and academia.

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