Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Celebrating HBCUs; Howard U. In Primetime

On Saturday, TV One ran a marathon of "A Different World"--the award-winning, iconic, 80s/90s sitcom, directed by Howard alum, Debbie Allen, set on the campus of Hilman College, a fictitious HBCU (historically black college and university). When the sitcom debuted in 1987, for the first time ever, little brown boys and brown girls were seeing people who looked like their brothers, sisters, even themselves, fighting for social issues, earning degrees in art and engineering, and gettin' their party on while doin' it (cue the scholarship fundraiser episode featuring a performance of Heavy D and the Boyz, which was a part of Saturday's lineup). Never having been duplicated, thanks to its syndication, a whole new generation of youngsters can continue to be inspired.

Complimenting the marathon, each episode featured the #HBCUPride hashtag along with periodic captions on screen highlighting black entertainers who attended HBCUs from Samuel L. Jackson (Morehouse) to Lionel Richie (Tuskegee) to Keisha Knight Pulliam (Spelman). I'm also sure it's not a coincidence that the celebration of "A Different World" and HBCU pride came a week after the network's creator, Cathy Hughes', recent $4 million dollar donation to Howard University, in which the University will re-name its School of Communications in her honor. Although Ms. Hughes is not an alum of Howard, her investment in the University was cemented long before her recent donation, when in 1973, she became General Sales Manager of Howard's radio station, WHUR-FM, increasing station revenue from $250,000 to $3 million in her first year and also created the “Quiet Storm” format, which revolutionized urban radio and was aired on over 480 stations nationwide.

Ms. Hughes, now owner of both TV One and Radio One, is black entertainment excellence at its best. However, the excellence of Howard has always been present in the arts, on stage and behind the curtain; in the booth and on the mic; in front of and behind the camera. That is why it gives me great pleasure to recognize that three current prime-time television shows and one hit streaming show is being lead or enhanced by Howard alums. So, let's pause to revel in some Bison pride and celebrate a few of Howard's talented own who are changing the face of television. 

This Is Us (NBC: Tuesdays, 9-10 p.m. Eastern) - This American TV dramedy series created by Dan Fogelman follows the lives of triplets--found, not separated at birth; if you tune in, that statement will make perfect sense--as they navigate life, love, and careers. One of its leading actors is Sterling K. Brown, most notably recognized for his award-winning portrayal of attorney Christopher Darden, in FX's "The People vs. O.J. Simpson." Sterling is a standout, but he is well complimented by Howard alum, Susan Kelechi Watson, who plays his tough-loving wife, Beth. Each week Watson doles out real talk along with real love, that brings Sterling's character, Randall, even more to life.Without Beth, there would be no Randall. Without Randall, this show would be far from the hit that it is. Susan, Howard U salutes you!

Empire (Fox: Wednesdays, 9-10 p.m. Eastern) - Unless you've been living under a rock, you know about those Lyons kids, Lucious and, of course, the infamous Cookie. The American musical drama television series created by Lee Daniels and Danny Strong centers on the fictitious hip hop music and entertainment company, Empire Entertainment, and the drama among the members of the founders' family, as they fight for control of the company. But love her or hate her, the "empire" at Empire would have long crumbled if not for Cookie. Safe to say, the show may have crumbled by now as well if Howard alum, Taraji P. Henson, who plays Cookie wasn't breathing new life and drama into the show each week with her jaw-dropping antics--and fans can't seem to get enough. Taraji, Howard U salutes you!

Black'ish (ABC: Wednesdays, 9:30-10 p.m.) - When the Huxtables danced off into the sunset in 1992, we didn't think we would ever have another black family we could love--or relate to--again. Make way for the Johnsons--an uber successful, lovable, black California family navigating the nuances of life while struggling to hold firm to their identity and purpose. Leading this rambunctious family of six (soon seven) is patriarch, Andre Johnson, played by Howard alum Anthony Anderson. It's no doubt that Tracee Ellis Ross, who plays Andre's wife, Rainbow, is the real comedian on the show, but Andre is indeed its heartbeat. Anthony, Howard U salutes you!

Luke Cage (Netflix) - When the anticipated Netflix original, Luke Cage, created by Cheo Hodari Coker and based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, debuted the weekend of October 1st, there were reports that the throngs of people who fired up their device to get a front row seat to the first ever TV series featuring a black super hero in its lead, crashed Netflix's server. No surprise. The every day black man turned superhero cleaning up the streets of New York with nothing more than will, determination, strength, and, of course, an indestructible body, was guaranteed to be a hit. And hot on his trails to uncover his secret is Detective (and superhero in her own right) Misty Knight, played by Howard alum Simone Missick. From its first episode, Missick and Mike Colter, who plays Cage, heated up our screens with their steamy love scene, but whether together as lovers or on each other's trails as foes, they keep things hot! Simone, Howard U salutes you!

As Howard University is in the throws of its annual Homecoming week celebration as I write this, I want to take this moment to salute all of my fellow alumni--and alumni of all HBCUs--regardless of where they're making their presence felt because one thing's for sure--wherever we are and whatever we're doing--our presence is indeed palpable. Let's keep changing the game!

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