In the ’80s and ’90s, Thursday night “must-see TV!” was entertaining and educational, especially A Different World. For a generation growing up, this show was an introduction to college life, political awareness and social responsibility. In the show’s fourth season, Debbie Allen directed a special episode, “If I Should Die Before I Wake,” that tackled AIDS head on.

Twenty-three years later, the episode is still relevant to today’s conversations about this disease. Take a quick look back at some of the powerful lessons about HIV/AIDS this show put its spotlight on:

1. Friends don’t let friends have unprotected sex.

Girlfriends get all up in your business and real friends aren’t afraid to have real conversations. It’s cool to joke and laugh about the fun side of romance, but Jaleesa and Kim also let Whitley know that having sex and protecting her body is serious business.

a different world friends

“…a very important accessory for the evening – a condom.” – Jaleesa

2. Women carrying condoms isn’t taboo, it’s smart.

Back in the ’90s, a woman showing up with her own condoms still sent a certain ‘message’ and unfortunately, it wasn’t a good one. But what’s sexier than a woman who values herself and her health? Jaleesa was always on her grown woman and showed carrying protection is a woman’s responsibility, too.

condoms purse

“And you just happen to have one in your purse.” – Whitley

3. The real mood killer is getting (or giving) an STD. 

When is the right time to bring up putting on the condom, or as Whitley called it, “that contraption”? It’s not the most sexiest moment, but leave it to Kim Reese to school us on the reality of STDs.

the mood

“And shatter the mood?!” – Whitley

4. You can’t tell a person’s status just by looking at them.

Young, beautiful, college-educated Josie – does she “look” like the face of AIDS? People infected with HIV/AIDS may not look sick or whatever we imagine being infected is supposed to look like.

face of aids

“Looking at me, could you tell I was dying?” – Josie

5. “AIDS is NOT a moral judgment.”

AIDS is not “a gay man’s disease” nor only for those living “perverted” lifestyles and doing drugs (infection according to Whitley Gilbert). HIV can be “a woman’s disease” and currently, 16 million women are living with it.

moral judgement

“AIDS is NOT a moral judgment.” – Professor Jordan

6. People with HIV/AIDS are often turned against and treated unfairly. 

Before telling folks to have a seat became popular, there was Kim Reese’s infamous read about how HIV is actually spread. You can’t catch it just from walking past an infected person, holding their hand or even looking at them, but Josie’s classmates acted real funny style after her announcement. Sadly, people are still quick to panic and slow to understand the facts.

10 Lessons About AIDS ‘A Different World’ Taught Us That Are Still True Today  was originally published on

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