Catching Up With: Jasmine Guy

Having captured our hearts as the classy, sassy, and hysterical debutante-turned-working girl Whitley Gilbert on the hit series “A Different World”, Jasmine Guy has been a name associated with the golden days of Black television. JET  caught up with the actress to discuss her take on womanhood, motherhood, and the impact “A Different World” made on her life.

JET: You just gave an excellent speech at the Women’s Expo in Atlanta. When you talk to your audience, what is the take away you hope they receive?

Jasmine Guy: I talk a lot about the role of a woman in society. I speak on the disenfranchisement and loss of Black men and Black lives in our communities. I encourage the audience to “do what’s in front you”- meaning to work on the issues at hand and then a change will come by ripple effect. I encourage women to stand strong in their careers, families, and communities. Women really do hold the world together, and sometimes that can be a bit overwhelming, because women are always in emergency mode — always on edge. Sometimes living that constant life of being on edge is toxic. I encourage people to pace themselves and to not feel like they have to be superwoman and save everyone’s day.

JET: What advice do you have for women struggling with the “superwoman/supermom” complex?

Jasmine Guy: Free yourself from unrealistic expectations. Give yourself room to be flexible. It’s okay to say “no” to a project if you don’t have time. I think women fail to realize that you need to make time for yourself, that having “me” time isn’t selfish. I also touch on motherhood during my talks and I’m very transparent with my audience. I didn’t have a child until I was 35 and up until that point, all I had to worry about was myself. With a child you have to be much more giving, and can’t take the risks you’d normally take, but remember not to lose too much of yourself. I encourage women to embrace the changes and sacrifices that come with motherhood and family life, but all of that doesn’t mean you let your personal interests fall by the wayside.

JET: With A Different World being made available on Netflix, how has the rejuvenated interest in the show impacted you?

Jasmine Guy: It’s funny because I actually haven’t watched the show in about 20 years, so I’ve recently just gotten back to re-watching episodes of it also. At the time, it was just a job. We, well, at least I didn’t understand the genius [of] Bill Cosby, Debbie Allen, and all of those involved with the show. In retrospect, I see that our show was a major platform for change and conversation among the world. It showed young Black people across the spectrum to the world. It showed young Black kids that a better future was possible. Aside from that, it gave our generation a platform to discuss the things going on at the time from South Africa to Rodney King. There’s nothing on television like that now. I’m so humbled to be a part of such a revolutionary show, and all of that is confirmed for me when I people come up to me and tell me that A Different World influenced them to go to an HBCU, or college in general.

JET: Do you think the show will continue to leave a legacy among Black generations?

Jasmine Guy: I think it will. I think Cosby and his team understood the power of the medium and created a show that took full advantage of the platform. I also think the cast was brilliant (though I may be biased). But there’s no denying the fact that the cast made each character their own and we beautifully complimented each other. I know that I was allowed to grow and develop the character of Whitley in such a powerful way because I could play off of the development of Dwayne, Kim, Julissa, Freddie, Ron … because each actor developed their characters as well. Our characters progressed in a very poignant way that I think can influence anyone watching it no matter the time or age.

JET: Do you think we can get to a place like that on television? Especially given the heightened racial tensions in the country and around the world?

Jasmine Guy: I think maybe one day we can. I think right now everyone’s attention is so scattered with social media and all the social networks. Television used to be that one cohesive place where you came to get entertainment, information, and news. I also think the content of television has changed drastically with this new generation. Real life isn’t reflected on people’s screens anymore. It’s all scripted drama or unrealistic scenarios. I look at the show my daughter watches sometimes and think “What is this?” when it’s shows that portray children with no parents running around, or kids exploring the world by themselves, and a bunch of over-fictionalized stuff. Then for the adults, you have scripted reality television and all that stuff that just doesn’t reflect what’s going on in reality.

JET: Do you hope to be a part of more TV shows and projects that reflect that?

Jasmine Guy: Definitely. Even now, I carefully choose the projects that [I’m] a part of. Right now, Raisin’ Cane is my one woman show about the Harlem Renaissance. The show goes through everything that happened to the people back then and in America. I also wrote a book about Afeni Shakur [Tupac Shakur’s mother], called Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary, which talks about her life and experiences. I did an episode of [Tyler Perry’s] If Loving You is Wrong and that was an awesome environment to be [in]. I hadn’t been on such a warm set like that in a while. I did a short film for the HBO Film Festival called Irreconcilable, which is a really powerful piece. But yes, I focus on projects that I feel have purpose.

JET: What’s your advice for the millennial generation who are just now starting to find their voice and niche in society?

Jasmine Guy: I say follow your heart and passion and always leave room for the unknown. Dare to do what’s never been done before.

Get a feel for Jasmine Guy’s “Raisin’ Cane’ below!