HEART TO HEART
After her divorce, the TV star learned you can go home again
Jasmine Guy talks motherhood, aging and her new project.
Fans still have fond memories of Jasmine Guy as the hilariously prissy Whitley Gilbert on her hit ’80s college sitcom A Different World. But around the time of her painful 2008 divorce, the newly single mom found herself living full-time in a very familiar world: Atlanta, the city where she grew up. “My parents said,
‘Just come home for a while. We can’t help you out there by yourself,’ ” Jasmine, 54, reveals to Closer. “After you get divorced, you’re back in hustle mode: I thought, How am I going to work in Atlanta, provide for my family and be me at this stage I don’t recognize? I didn’t realize there was this whole resurrection happening with
[show] business here.” It’s allowed
Jasmine to raise her daughter
Imani, 17, in the city she loves.
And now, 30 years after her signature show premiered, she is also coming “full circle” with The Quad, a new
BET series that’s set in an African-American college in the South.
Congrats on your new show!
It’s my third fictitious HBCU [historically black college/university] after A Different World and [Spike Lee’s 1988 film] School Daze. The irony is amazing, because I grew up across the street from Morehouse College and my father taught there. It’s a beautiful gift to let kids know these schools are available to them.
Speaking of A Different World, when did you last see your castmates?
I have a recurring role on [the Disney Channel show] K.C. Undercover, and they thought it would be fun to bring me and Kadeem [Hardison] back together. It was awesome. Our cast was very close; we called each other on our stuff and it wasn’t a big deal. We expect honesty from people who love us.
How about Bill Cosby, who created A Different World?
We filmed in LA and they filmed [The Cosby Show] in New York, so we were mostly working with [director] Debbie Allen.
Lisa Bonet left after the first season, but have you kept in touch with her and Marisa Tomei?
I really loved working with Lisa, and I’m sorry we lost her. [Lisa and Marisa] are very close friends. It’s always great to see them and pick up where we left off.
Just like you have in Atlanta! What was your life like growing up there?
I raised a lot of babies, because we were a foster family when I was 10 or 11 and my sister was around 7. We would have foster kids until they were four to five months old, changed diapers, did feedings — I really thought they were mine. Some were left in dumpsters, and my mom would let me name them after songs from Africa. I think that changed my life. I’d tell them, “Your mommy wants you. You’re going to have a great life.” It was devastating when they wouldn’t get adopted. That was the part I couldn’t take. I was going through the adoption process when I met my ex-husband, but the timing worked out [to have our daughter, Imani].
What did you learn with foster babies that informed how you raised her?
I wanted her to know her own spirit. When it’s just on you [after a divorce], it is scary, but I do have a village — people who love us, who’ll do things I couldn’t do by myself. I think the hardest thing for women raising children by themselves is there is no balance.
How do you get around that?
I think about what my daddy or her godfather or my best friend’s husband would do. I’ll end up calling them to say, “I don’t know if Imani is going to open up to you, but this is what’s going on, so can you offer any advice?”
Any lessons you’ve taken from it?
Don’t feel inadequate because you’re single. It’s easier said than done, but find that love in other kinds of relationships.
“I love the adventure
that I get from being with people.”
How did you change after motherhood?
I felt really afraid of taking risks I used to take without a second thought. But it has changed things in a beautiful way. Imani really is my favorite person in the world.
You seem to be a maternal person.
I see people in their baby state! Imani tells me, “Mommy, I’m not a baby.” But I say, “I still see your spirit. You’re going to forget it, so I have to remind you who you came here to be.”
You’re now 54. What are the benefits to reaching your age?
I feel free! I love being with people. I travel a lot, meet a lot of like-minded folks and hear stories of how they hold their families together. It’s kind of like the show Undercover Boss [laughs]. We have so much more in common than what we don’t have in common, so to focus on our differences is really debilitating.
— Reporting by Ilyssa Panitz
“I like her and I love her”: Jasmine with her daughter, Imani With Kadeem Hardison and Dawnn Lewis on the 1987–’93 series A Different World.