A Spirit of Greatness: Kenya Barris 7


If you have never watched ABC’s hit sitcom, “black-ish,” then you are missing out. The hilarious comedy airs Wednesday nights and stars Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross and Laurence Fishburne. The critically acclaimed show is the brainchild of creator, producer and writer, Kenya Barris.

Barris, who grew up in Los Angeles, wanted to attend an Historically Black College and University based on the ‘90s hit television show, “A Different World.” He attended Clark Atlanta University in 1992 when Atlanta’s film and music scene was booming, recalling it as a very special time.

Barris described the journey of pitching “black-ish” to ABC.

“It was difficult in that they hadn’t seen it before,” Barris said. “It wasn’t difficult in that I had Laurence Fishburne and Anthony Anderson in the room next to me. They helped a lot. But they (ABC) weren’t quite sure what it was going to be.”

Ultimately, the show premiered in September 2014 and centers on a family struggling to gain a sense of cultural identity while raising kids in a predominantly white, upper middle-class neighborhood.

While the show has been an instant hit among all audiences, Barris wants to make sure it is not labeled a “Black show,” but rather one about the American experience.

In its third season, the show tackles controversial topics, such as racism and the 2016 presidential election. Barris says his inner circle inspires him to create content for the show.

“We want to make sure the show has a voice, and the best way to do that was to look around at my family, my extended family, my friends and what we’re talking about and reflect that back into the show,” Barris said. “If people like it, that’s great. If they don’t, then at least I can say I’m being honest to what my voice and my path was.”

Barris was honored in March at Clark Atlanta University’s 9th Annual Spirit of Greatness Gala. At the event, hosted by the university and its Alumni Association, the 1996 CAU grad was presented with a Pathways to Excellence Award.

Barris’ advice to young, aspiring writers, directors and producers is to cherish an education.

“Growing up in my time, graduating from college was an amazing thing, and now I think for so many kids, it’s easier for them to look and feel like, ‘How can I make it rich really quick?’ One of the things I would say is that the other stuff will come, but you have to be able to manage the other stuff, and education is your key to doing that.”

Barris marveled at “black-ish” star Ross’ recent historic Golden Globe win for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV musical or comedy. He also loves the current state of Black entertainment, featuring hit shows by Issa Rae and Shonda Rhimes and the fact that “our stories are finally being told.”