“Did I do that?”

These famous words by Steve Urkel (played by Jaleel White) have lit up many Black households over the years. The Winslows – a fictional middle-class Black family set in Chicago in the 1990s sitcom “Family Matters” – were introduced to the world 32 years ago. But the life lessons and important topics, albeit wrapped in a half hour of humor and charm, still hold weight today. The show addressed family, friendships, love, violence, bullying and a lot more.

Since the 2010s, there’s been an increased nostalgia for Black 90s television shows. Black Gen Xers and Millennials were blessed with an array of shows that continue to resonate with us today.

As a young boy in Nigeria, I was introduced to aspirational and loyal Black American friend groups through shows like “Living Single,” “Martin,” and “In the House.” Heartwarming Black family shows such as  “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” taught me about not having to fit in, yet still making a difference. 

And other 90s shows, such as “Moesha,” “Sister Sister,” and “Hangin’ with Mr Cooper,” pushed the funny family narrative while also dealing with serious topics such as sex, sexism, drugs and peer pressure.

But the first Black American show I remember came into my life long before I’d even seen an episode. Whenever I made a mistake as a kid growing up in Nigeria, my dad would belt out Urkel’s one-liner “Did I do that?” to sort of ease my babyish guilt. 

And in high school, Urkel’s nerdy style became the trend for young Nigerian men. In the early 2000s, it was nothing to see us dressed in the suspenders and big glasses combo. We were even begging our parents to buy Urkel’s attire so we could fit in at school.

I remember how my friend and I had pressured our parents into buying us Urkel glasses to fit in, and to this day, suspenders – the piece of western fashion which he popularized – are still a hit. By the time I was 7 years old, in 2002, I was catching reruns of “Family Matters” on Saturday mornings with my parents. I remember my first episode vividly, and as luck would have it, it became one of my favorite episodes of all time.

In the episode entitled “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Urkel” from season 4, Laura Winslow and Urkel switch roles. It’s such a special episode because Laura and Steve both learned important traits about each other and learned empathy. It’s an episode I always revisit, because it reminds me of the family time we spent in front of the TV, trying to catch whatever “Family Matters” episode Nigeria’s Silverbird Network decided to show us that day. Also, that episode inspired my teenage antics, as I’d always think about Eddie Winslow begging his dad to push his curfew past 11:00 p.m. whenever I wanted to push those same boundaries with my parents.

“Family Matters” exemplified the strength of the Black family. The relationship between Carl Winslow and Urkel was a beautiful one to watch. Much like Uncle Phil and Will on “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” although they had their differences, it meant a lot to watch a Black man love someone who was not his biological son. 

It meant more to me because my cousin, who stayed with us sometimes, received this unending love from my dad. Although “Family Matters” was set in Chicago, the show permeated borders and even made its way to African countries like Nigeria,  small sex doll where it is still a fan favorite today. It inspired other popular TV shows in Nigeria, such as “Papa Ajasco,” which features a man navigating family life while also dealing with the shenanigans of a troublesome neighbor named Boy Alinco.

Not to take anything away from today’s Black-led shows such as “Atlanta,” Insecure” and “Black-ish,” which are all highly successful and popular comedic offerings, but there was a playfulness and whimsical side to many of the Black 90s sitcoms. 

At the time, there was a shift from token Black characters that we saw in 1970s shows like JJ Evans from “Good Times” and Rerun from “What’s Happening?”, to Black characters with more nuance and complexities including Khadijah James from “In Living Single” and Kim Reese from “A Different World.” And, of course, the shift came when production companies started taking an interest in Black audiences like FOX, which launched in 1986 but became a hotspot for Black shows in the 90s with “Martin,” “Living Single” and “In Living Color.”  Later The WB introduced  shows including “The Wayans Bros” and UPN with “Moesha,” “The Parkers,” “Girlfriends” “One on One” and more. 

With more Black shows just now making their way to African countries via streaming platforms, I still think back on “Family Matters” and the impact it had on my Nigerian upbringing. Whenever I watch the reruns today on HBO Max, I am reminded of beauty in eccentricity and the bond between people that aren’t even related. 

It’s hard for “Family Matters” and all the other Black American 90s sitcoms not to live rent-free in our minds. In a world where humor, messages and family values continue to evolve, the 90s Black American sitcom classics continue to show the beauty of being Black in America, African and around the world.

is a freelance writer.