Born 1962, Collier Heights
My dad got a job teaching at Morehouse College, which was his alma mater, and we lived right across the street. He was also the minister of Friendship Baptist Church for thirty-seven years. So I grew up at Friendship and on the campus of Morehouse. I went to Spelman’s dance school and walked through the campuses of Morehouse and Spelman to my little ballet class every day after school.
Photograph courtesy of Sylvain Gaboury/PR Photos
I went to a lot of elementary schools: I went to Peeples Street, which isn’t even there anymore. I went to M. Agnes Jones. I went to Collier Heights. Then I ended up at Sutton Middle School; I was in the first year busing blacks to whites. We were taking the big yellow bus all the way across town, which felt like an eternity to me. We were bused from all different neighborhoods, so we ended up not just racially mixing, but culturally mixing. There were Buckhead kids there, kids coming from Perry Homes. That’s where I got my ear from; that’s how I got accents and different human behaviors.
When I went to Peeples Street, in the West End, there were kids there that I couldn’t even understand what they were saying. I was coming from New York, and I didn’t understand the white kids or the black kids. It was almost like learning a language, and I started imitating. I would talk like my teacher, and the kid who didn’t know how to read. Of course, I was picked on all the time because I talked funny, to them. Sometimes my mom would say to me, “You should have gone to private school!” And I said, “No. That would have just been awful.”
When I went to Northside School of Performing Arts [now North Atlanta High School], that’s when I said, This is what I want to be when I grow up. My teachers really took me under their wings; Billy Densmore as director, and Lee Harper as the dance department head and choreographer. The very first role I got, at thirteen, was Anita in West Side Story. It was a life-changing experience.
I think my little sister thought she went to Morehouse. I kept telling her, “You have to be a boy!” My uncle was director of the glee club, and my mother got her master’s at the AU Center. When I did School Daze, after being in New York and L.A. for eight years, I was back on the campus of Morehouse. I’ve become an advocate for HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities], having graduated from two fictitious schools: Mission College in School Daze and [A Different World’s] Hillman. They made HBCUs famous, even for black people. I didn’t realize that people didn’t know about black colleges and their history. I was on the campus of Morris Brown the other day, and it just broke my heart to see all the buildings boarded up.
I still think Atlanta is the land of opportunity. In my return, I’ve done more artistically than I was doing in Los Angeles, because there’s an allowance, and there’s a desire.
—As told to Amanda Heckert
Boston-born actress, singer, and dancer Jasmine Guy was raised in Collier Heights. She won six NAACP Image Awards for her portrayal of Whitley Gilbert on A Different World. In 2009 she returned to live in Atlanta. Next month she hosts a fiftieth birthday party–fundraiser for True Colors Theatre Company and other arts programs.