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"A Different World" actress Jasmine Guy speaks at Thomas Nelson Community College
Jasmine Guy, star of the 1987 sit-com "A Different World", poses for photos before a black history month event at Thomas Nelson Community College Friday evening.
February 28, 2014|By Austin Bogues,
HAMPTON Jasmine Guy still thinks fondly about her time portraying the role of Whitley Gilbert on "A Different World". The 51-year-old actress, dancer and author said that a local college influenced the popular show.
"I always use Hampton [University] as an example. A lot of times people think Morehouse or Spelman College, but they weren't co-ed," she said. Guy starred in the popular late 80s-early 90s sitcom, created by Bill Cosby, that portrayed life at the fictitious historically black school Hillman College.
Guy, who spoke Friday at Thomas Nelson Community College's Black History Month Expo, said she's devoted to educating the public about the diverse history of African Americans in the country. "I talk to so many people who say, even 20 years later, 'I went to school because of your show,'" Guy said.
On the show, Guy's character is a funny young black woman from the South who comes from an affluent family and at times has a hard time adjusting to college life.
"It let us know that there were other options," she said, referring to the show's legacy with blacks. "We need a diverse entertainment field that shows our subtleties. We're not a monolithic group."
Guy also starred in the 1988 Spike Lee Film "School Daze" which deals with rival fraternities and sororities at historically black colleges and universities. The film also touched on racism within the black community, and the tensions between "dark skinned" and "light skinned" African Americans. Lee recently announced his intention to make a sequel, which made Guy smile on Friday.
"I heard he might deal with homophobia in this one," she said. Guy said she's committed to fighting for equal rights for gays and lesbians, including marriage equality. "I'm certainly an advocate for the gay movement," she said. "I'm a dancer, I don't see the big deal of being gay," she said.
Guy follows current events and said she was avidly looking forward to President Barack Obama's initiative "My Brother's Keeper", announced Friday, which targets at-risk young men of color to help them in school and their community. "He is the one to tackle these issues, I was very excited to hear his announcement," she said.
In addition to her work as an actress, Guy wrote the book "Evolution of a Revolutionary," which is a biography of Afeni Shakur, the mother of the late rap icon Tupac Shakur.
On Friday, a few hundred of Guy's fans showed up to Wythe Hall on TNCC's campus for photos and autographs.
Among them was Crystal Taylor, who supervises Career and Technical Education for Newport News Public Schools, and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc., a historically black sorority. She said she grew up watching Guy on "A Different World."
"It's really our history," Taylor said. Alexis Carrington, 27, who also participated in the program Friday, said Guy's work inspired her as she pursues a divinity degree from Regent University. "It taught you about going to college and what you might encounter, things that happen in life and some of the problems you might face."