As a 30-year-old who will actively watch Sister, Sister marathons and Moesha reruns, I was ecstatic at the announcement of Grown-ish. The Freeform spinoff of ABC’s black-ish follows Zoey Johnson (Yara Shahidi) to her freshman year of college at California University of Liberal Arts. The show is a 2017 coming-of-age story for us and by us.
The obvious comparison of the series’ arrival is The Cosby Show spinoff, A Different World, widely recognized as the series that accurately captured the HBCU college experience as it followed Denise Huxtable heading to Hillman. But my first memory of a Black college experience in pop culture was something entirely different.
I remember watching Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes dancing around whilst doing laundry in a lit dorm hall, while T-Boz rocked a Grambling State University sweatshirt at Bowie State University. It predates the term, but the iconic TLC “Baby-Baby-Baby” video was one of the earliest forms of Black Girl Magic I’d ever seen. And with a renewed mainstream focus today on Black culture and 90’s fashion, coupled with increased enrollment to HBCUs, I can’t help but hope that Grown-ish brings the same energy.
In 1987 A Different World brought a new class of college students with diverse storylines. Perhaps Tupac Shakur’s appearance made this episode a memorable one, but I’ll never forget watching Lena James’ (Jada Pinkett-Smith) back-home Baltimore friends mix with the Black, bad and boujee of Hillman. The scenario of being one of the few Black people in your social group to make it back to college is an evergreen one, and a reality two decades after the show’s airing that many first-generation college students can relate to —self included.
Moesha and Sister, Sister followed the series’ main characters to college, but this time we witnessed Black narratives in predominantly White universities, each centered around gathering hubs, coffee shops, and football while navigating new friendships and love interests. These series felt similar to the early episodes of A Different World, cultivating a storyline around characters we already know, before the star protagonist Denise (Lisa Bonet) left, leaving the show the opportunity to form an iconic new identity of its own.
Grown-ish’s Zoey is somewhat of a mix of all these protagonists with an individual, cool sense of style like Denise, intelligence like Sister, Sister’s Tia and love interests like Moesha. Given black-ish’s attentiveness to Black culture, watching Zoey attend an HBCU would have been iconic. But the more important and exciting thing to watch will be how Zoey navigates her strong sense of self and popular, good-girl attitude in college and the vices that come with enrollment in an adolescent’s utopia.
Grown-ish premieres Jan 3 at 8pm EST on Freeform.