Vice President Kamala Harris links up with ‘A Different World’ cast to promote student debt relief, HBCUs

America's first Black vice president held a private White House meeting with the stars of the 1990s sitcom inside her West Wing office.

Vice President Kamala Harris celebrated historically Black colleges and universities with the cast of sitcom “A Different World” as the White House promoted their efforts to reduce the burden of student debt.

In a video posted on Friday, Harris highlighted the Biden-Harris administration’s moves to eliminate student debt for millions of borrowers. She was joined by “A Different World” co-stars — Jasmine Guy, Kadeem Hardison and Glenn Turman — in urging borrowers to learn more about the federal debt relief programs available.

The video begins with Guy, who starred as Whitley Gilbert, and Hardison, who played Dwayne Wayne, at the White House. In the show, Wayne had a love interest in Gilbert as they studied at Hillman College, a fictional HBCU. The series ran on NBC from 1987 to 1993.

“We’re living in a different world,” Guy said.

Hardison followed saying, “Whether you graduated from Hillman or …,” before the camera cuts to Harris who continued saying, “Or went to the real H-U, student loan debt is a burden for far too many people these days, and we’re doing something about it.”

Harris is a graduate of Howard University, which students and alumni of the institution denote as “the real H-U” to differentiate it from its rival Hampton University.

In a follow up video posted on Saturday, the cast, including Cree Summer, Dawnn Lewis, Chernele Brown and Daryl Bell, recreate the sitcom’s intro outside the West Wing. It later pans to Harris greeting and speaking with the cast in her office.

According to the vice president’s office, Harris was “elated” to welcome the cast at the White House during their visit orchestrated by the White House Office of Public Engagement. The cast was in Washington, D.C., as part of their HBCU tour to promote enrollment and raise scholarship funding for current and future students. 

The actors had a private meeting with Harris on Tuesday, where they discussed the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to address the rising cost of higher education and the burden of student debt.

Vice President Harris greets actress Dawnn Lewis, who starred “A Different World.” (Photo: White House)

The meeting also highlighted HBCUs, some of which have seen record enrollment since the COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden-Harris administration invested over $7 billion into historically Black colleges and universities. As a graduate of Howard, Harris has been credited for putting a national spotlight on HBCUs.

The vice president’s office said Harris would continue to uplift the importance of HBCUs and the impact of “trailblazing HBCU graduates across the nation.”

A day before the cast of “A Different World” visited the White House, which included a tour of the press briefing room with White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, the Biden-Harris administration announced its long-anticipated student loan debt relief program. 

The “Plan B” to President Biden’s original program, which the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated, includes five methods to “fix” the federal student loan program, including providing debt cancellation for borrowers who owe more today than they did when they entered repayment, who have owed for 20 years or more and who are experiencing financial hardship. The proposed plan is expected to be finalized by the fall. 

Combined with existing student loan programs created or expanded by the administration, the White House expects to provide relief to as many as 30 million student borrowers, including many Black and Latino borrowers. To date, Biden and Harris have canceled $146 billion in student loan debt for four million Americans.

TheGrio caught up with the cast of “A Different World” about the need to bring economic relief to Black college students and borrowers. 

(Front Row L-R) Cree Summer, Kadeem Hardison (Second Row L-R) Charnele Brown, Dawnn Lewis, Darryl M. Bell (Back Row L-R) Jasmine Guy and Glynn Turman attend A Different World HBCU College Tour 2024 at Spelman College on February 29, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Nykieria Chaney/Getty Images)

“We’re weighing these babies down when they’re just starting life,” Guy told theGrio. “They’re coming into their life with a ball and chain.” 

Bell, who starred as Ron Johnson on “A Different World,” evoked America’s first Black president, Barack Obama, and former First Lady Michelle Obama, who did not pay off their college debt until just four years before they entered the White House.

“Everybody can’t do that to get out of debt,” Bell said.

Lewis, who played Jaleesa Vinson, said she couldn’t pay off her student loan debt until her starring role in “A Different World.”

“It was getting deferred, deferred until I got a job … I could’ve been doing that for more than a decade to trying to pay off my student loans,” said Lewis, who graduated from the University of Miami. “But it was important to get the education, and you do what you have to do.”

Reflecting on their visit to the White House and progress for Black Americans, Turman, who starred as Colonel Bradford Taylor on the show, said it was “a good jumping-off point.”

“I actually see us going so much further,” he told theGrio. “It’s good that we’re here. And it took all of what it has taken to get here. But where we’ve got to go, this is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Turman said he particularly wanted young Black people to be “encouraged” and “enthusiastic” about the opportunities available to them but not “take any of it for granted.”

“This is no time to become complacent. Just because you see us standing here at the White House doesn’t mean that we still don’t have to put brick and mortar on that bad boy,” he said. “Keep on going … because we need you.”

Never miss a beat: Get our daily stories straight to your inbox with theGrio’s newsletter.