In the fall of 87’, young black adults would begin to crowd around the TV to hear the iconic theme song that goes a little like, “I know my parents love me, stand behind me, come what May, I know now that I’m ready, because I finally heard them say, It’s a different world, than where you come from.”
‘A Different World,’ a spin-off of ‘The Cosby Show,’ and taking place at fictional HBCU, Hillman, was the spot-on representation for black students attending HBCUs in the late 80’s and throughout the 90’s. The show opened doors to awareness of many social issues we turn our backs to, informing the youth and minority groups most affected of our rights, freedom of speech, health and maintaining a well-being in a world that can be against us. But something that drew people to this sitcom, was the characters and their development, viewers finding one out of the dozen or more introduced who they could closely relate to. Rather it was embracing being bad and bougie like southern belle Whitley Gilbert, the early epitome of scholarly Black Girl Magic like Kimberly Reese, a goof who knows when it’s time to secure the bag like Dwayne Wayne or keeping the player card like Ron Johnson, there was something within these characters that made young black people connect.
We all admired the show, rooted for fictional characters to end up together and wished some who left, would return. So here’s a breakdown of where each of the Fab 5 (Dwayne, Whitley, Ron, Kim and Freddie), ‘A Different World,” characters would be 23 years later from a Kontrol writer’s perspective.
When we were introduced to Ms. Whitley Gilbert in the beginning of the series, she was the one character we all loved to hate. Her snobbish demeanor and high-chin to those below her made it almost impossible to relate to the big-banked, southern belle, who’s closet probably cost more than Hillman’s tuition. But over time, at least for me, Whitley’s character grew replacing Lisa Bonet’s Denise Huxtable, as the lead transitioning into season two, as she began to mature and balance her life and beliefs with others around her. Props to on-and-off-again lover, Dwayne Wayne, spunky and spirited Freddie Brooks, open-minded scholarly best friend, Kimberly Reese and hard-head Lena James, showing her other sides of this ‘different world.’ Whitley was an Art-History and Film major, coming from a wealthy family and originally only attending college to find a husband, until she found out more about herself.
Whitley Gilbert-Wayne NOW: Although some questioned Whitley’s marriage to Dwayne as they saw him as manipulative and controlling, it’s pretty obvious that they would still be married today, probably with another child or two after having their first in 94.’ More than likely still stationed in Tokyo, Japan, Whitley is a major art buyer, still putting her double major to use. I can see her teaching a small Japanese class of students learning English and in her free time, she takes care of her children and definitely keeps in touch with her parents, more so Mama Gilbert who we got a wind of during the series. Whitley is a boss and always has been due to the fact that she could hold her own and was willing to eventually change for the better in order to relate to her peers, but not in a way where she had to knock herself down, but in the way where she built her character from a stuck up materialistic girl, to a boss of a woman.
Remember when Dwayne had that cute but sad little crush on our beloved Denise Huxtable, but homegirl decided to leave Hillman (and the show) to travel to Africa for a year and once he decided to get closure, found out she was getting married to a hefty U.S. Navy Lieutenant. Yeah, we remember that too. Since that heartbreak, we noticed Dwayne made a switch as he started taking his mathematics major a bit more serious, even to the point where he volunteered to tutor Whitley, who he didn’t know from one innocent kiss, could lead to them getting married and having a child, years later. But like best friend Ron, Dwayne had his fair share of lady friends around the course of the series. He dated our favorite onscreen math teacher, Colonel Taylor’s daughter, Suzanne but that didn’t last. And once coming back from his summer internship in Japan, he started a flame with Kinu, or as Whitley pronounced “Nuki” or “Kinusabi” (I lived for Whitley’s jealous moments). That came to an end as well, as Kinu witnessed Dwayne’s never-ending love for Whitley that he just couldn’t let go. I loved the fact that we could see Dwayne’s transition from a goofball Jamal to a man about his business. I mean, he landed an internship all the way in Japan and came back suited and set for his future and that was the Dwayne we wanted from the beginning and for Whitley. Although his interruption of Whitley’s almost wedding was quite childish and we know in real life, that would never happen, you can’t really blame someone for fighting for the love they think they righteously deserve.
Dwayne Wayne NOW: In his mid-40s and owning part of the Kinishewa company, Whitley and himself moved from Japan for, Dwayne is one Hillman graduate we know for sure put his degree to use. Let’s not forget that it was mentioned in a reunion special, that Dwayne would go on to invent the flip-phone which was inspired by his signature flip glasses, bringing in enough to support his family I’m sure. Still married to Whitley and being a father to his children, I can see Dwayne wanting to teach as well, maybe mathematics like after graduating Hilman or even a few additional engineer courses. Hopefully, he would’ve kept in touch with Ron, who was ½ of one of the greatest bromances in TV history.
Kimberly Reese was the epitome of 90’s ‘Black Girl Magic.’ Carried like a true queen, would clapback with facts faster than you could take back what you said and was a stunner, mentally and physically. Although Kim was the goody-two-shoes who we sometimes wish would live a little, we have to give our girl props for dealing with Whitley as a roommate for two years, who eventually became her best friend and also juggling her course load with her workload at Mr. Gaines’s, The Pit. With hopes of being a doctor and working her way through school with the help of scholarships that also paid for it, Kim never relaxed, she feared failure and didn’t leave enough space for her to back away from overachieving a bit and find a balance to her personal life. From surprisingly dating Ron, who was the complete opposite of her but a good fit for the time being, to finally accepting the proposal from medical school opponent, Spencer Boyer was Kim’s character development as we seen her slowly move out of the box of good, but endless over achievement into things that she could be more secure and sure of when she’s ready.
Kimberly Reese NOW: Kimberly Reese, M.D. to you. It’s pretty obvious where we would see Kim over 20 years now, probably even getting her Chief of Surgery on like Dr.Webber or Dr.Bailey at Seattle Grace. Due to conflicting schedules or a lack of time spent together, Kim’s strong suit on independence and lack of interest in serious or long-term relationships, her and Spencer could’ve divorced by now or be on the rocks, but for the sake of beautiful black love, we hope the two are still going strong. No speculation of little Boyer’s running around, being as Kim is super dedicated to her job and may have never had the time to have children, but at least she’ll be considered an aunt to Whitley’s children, fingers-crossed they stayed close.
Ronald Johnson Jr.
Was it just me, or did anyone else have the BIGGEST crush on Ron Johnson? Okay, maybe just me but you couldn’t deny his smooth and clean persona although he was a dirty player, Ron had skills. Almost forcefully put into his father’s footsteps of being a car salesman, Ron was the one guy everyone meets in college who is always there, but not really there (up there), if you know what I mean. He was a loyal friend to Dwayne, loved the ladies, attended the parties and rocked the cleanest pair of J’s but when did we actually see our mans read a book, or study for a test. I think I grew more to admire Ron when he started dating Kim, showing his effort to try and maintain a committed relationship when he was too used to jumping from one fling to another, but ruined that unsurprisingly when he cheated on Kim, with Freddie. But let’s rewind for a minute, his affection for Kim came for his criticism of her interracially dating a white guy named Matthew and despised Freddie’s used-to-be boo who we know as Shazza and then ended up dating Freddie from a kiss. Okay, maybe I take that crush back because it was clear Ron was thee player of plays and I was probably just blinded by the sweet talking and how he was finer than baby hair. But he earned cool points back when he started using his skills for good, making money moves rather than those pick-me-ups, come and go jobs and invested in opening the hottest club near Hillman, ‘The Place Where the Blues Will Be Played.”
Ron Johnson NOW: I always got “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man,” vibes from Ron. He may not have had everything figured out prior to the last moments of his higher education experience, but he always had something going on. Now, Ron would still be running “The Place Where the Blues Will Be Played,” as the only owner now unless, he allowed Freddie to co-own, being as he likely but not surely proposed, which would mean he hopefully learned to be in a serious relationship that didn’t involve infidelity or games. Ron was always a people person, more so toward women but he could talk himself in and out of anything, which makes it almost impossible to believe he wouldn’t have made a way for himself years after Hillman.
Winifred “Freddie” Brooks
Our mini Angela Davis of the 90’s. THE Black Hippie and beginning of ‘Carefree Black Girl,” for all black girls who could relate to the radiation of love and inner peace so strong, it impacts others. Freddie’s beginning was a unrequited love for Dwayne who she never went shy of putting forth efforts to pursue him, her obsession with Shazza Zulu, finding someone who is exactly like her but almost a stronger force, which in reality she didn’t need to depend on so much when she had her own crown. Then on a completely OC incident where she cheated on Shazza with none other than Ron, who was dating Kim at the time, also losing her virginity, caused Freddie to make a huge change within her demeanor and personality. She decides to enroll in Law School post-graduation, encountering an entirely new look and attitude that still stood up for the rights of herself and her peers, but turned ditzy Freddie, into divine Winifred.
Freddie Brooks NOW: Catch Freddie front and center at the latest protest fighting for social issues toward minorities or top attorney at a prestigious law firm or even her own. Freddie’s dedication and tight grasp around fighting for what she believed in, was right is one thing that guaranteed her a future as bright as who she was as a person. For Ron’s sake, we hope if they did stay together, he eventually popped the question and the two are that one couple who’s impossible not to love, who knows how to have fun with one another and put on for their community and people in the most philanthropic ways possible. But with the circumstances of how they got together, it’s hard to believe they would actually work and with Freddie’s change of outlook on her carefree life post-graduation, she could just be happily single.
I’m sure we all thought more than once about ‘A Different World,’ reboot sometime in the near future. With the climate of issues that are occurring now in society and generally throughout the world, it would only be right to implement that back into the perspective of historically black college students. Although some of us don’t or didn’t attend HBCUs, this was the guide of survival for black girls and boys planning to indulge in the higher learning experience.