For the last four years, All American fans have followed the in incredible football journey of Spencer James, inspired by the life of pro football player Spencer Paysinger and the students of South Crenshaw High and Beverly Hills High School. Now The CW is taking fans to Bringston University for a taste of the HBCU experience with their spinoff, All American: Homecoming.
Set in prestigious halls where “Black excellence is a way of life,” Homecoming follows tennis star Simone Hicks (Geffri Maya), baseball prodigy Damon Sims (Peyton Alex Smith), and others in their pursuit of higher education in Atlanta.
But this isn’t just about study guides and batting averages. Like any good drama, its strength lies within the characters and the many curveballs life throws in their way. At its root, Homecoming is an exploration of the endless drama, successes and stresses of college life — from students’ studies to the struggles of student athletes to Greek life and more. But how it turns out for this group of Bringston students all hinges on how Simone and her friends handle the pressure and weather the storm as maturing adults and how it shapes them into the people they hope to become.
To learn more about Simone’s journey, The Koalition spoke to actress Geffri Maya about Simone’s new life, HBCUs, finding inspiration, moving to a new environment, and more.
“I was definitely taken aback because I haven’t been on All American for that long and I wasn’t a part of the world for all that long. Never in a million years did I think the spinoff would be based on my character just for the sake of time. Especially for people who didn’t really know who I was. So, I was really honored our showrunner (Nkechi Okoro Carrol) had that much belief in me and had such a vision that I was a part of. I couldn’t have been more grateful and I’m still in that space of gratitude every day that we’ve been on this journey; from the backdoor pilot and the idea of actually shooting the backdoor pilot to being almost done finishing the season because we’re still filming currently. It’s been a journey, but I’m so grateful.”
When we first met Simone in All American, we followed the ups and downs of her relationship with Jordon, including her very polarizing decision to trick Jordan into thinking he got her pregnant, since her child’s actual father is unreliable. Despite this, fans watch Simone and Jordan’s love blossom, culminating in their secret marriage. While Simone loved her child dearly, she loved him enough to recognize giving him up for adoption could offer him a better life.
Now divorced (marriage annulled), Simone wants to start a new life in pursuit of her tennis dreams but being a student athlete at an elite HBCU while fighting to become a professional tennis player is anything but easy.
Even though Simone betrayed Jordon and their friendship is still there despite her past transgressions, Geffri feels Simone is still redeemable. “Simone has redeemed herself in a way that, no matter how people felt, they can’t deny. Simone did lie but she lied out of need. What’s so beautiful about Homecoming is we actually get to kind of see Simone go through that growth in her decision making, in how she handles situations, in how she navigates her relationships. It’s all about growth and that’s the main theme of Homecoming. College allows you to be who you want to be or rewrite yourself in a way that you’re proud of. Simone deserves that.”
“[As an actor] I wanted to explore her humanity. I wanted to explore just the thought of what it means to be so young, and even though baby Shay is not in her grasp physically, a mother is a mother; you’re still connected spiritually. That’s just a whole [different] ballgame of intuition, fight, power and perseverance you have to push through.”
“[While] there’s a lot of things All American didn’t necessarily show. When you think about teen mothers, and you think about their adversity and their strength, it’s hard on the body. It’s hard on the mind. It’s hard on the spirit sometimes. What it means to be a good mother differs for everyone, because then you have to think about your circumstances, your experiences, your environment. Luckily, Simone Hicks is a child who was raised in a good home in terms of both the financial aspects of it, but there are lots of young mothers who are not fortunate enough in that way, but still managed to be the best mom they can be.”
“I love that story line. I love that Simone wanted to be in the child’s life, even though she felt that taking care of the child herself was not a perfect fit. And I also love being a Black athlete. Again, there are these expectations, not even just being an athlete but just being a Black person. We can’t do what other people can do. Anything that someone else does, we have to do ten times more, ten times harder, ten times faster, ten times more elevated, and that’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of pressure, but I think just being able to celebrate the diligence and the passion, and the purpose, and the fight that Black people continuously have to push through and Black women have to continuously push through; it’s exciting. It’s exciting to put those people in the forefront. It’s exciting to celebrate those women in a production that is predominantly focused on truth and happiness, and joy and Black Excellence.”
“I know people crack jokes all the time about us saying, ‘Black Excellence, Black Excellence, Black Excellence’ but it’s a very broad term because everyone’s level ‘Black Excellence’ is different. There are some people who have come from different backgrounds that really have pushed them to fight and to do better. Whatever ‘Excellence’ is to them should be celebrated. And you have some people who come from wealth and were able to give back to their communities; that’s excellence for them.”
Homecoming isn’t without its own set of scandals. The baseball team is rebuilding after an academic scandal forced most of the team out; Simone’s aunt, a journalism professor who blew the whistle (Kelly Jenrette), faces career consequences for standing in the way of athletic achievement, while Damon is under intense pressure to lead the team’s revival. Meanwhile, Simone faces fierce opposition in her desire to join the squad from Thea (Camille Hyde), an athlete who views the tennis team as her domain.
With everything that will unfold, Simone builds a circle of friends and a support system that helps her to grow as a person. It’s through these friends and (enemies) Simone learns lessons about herself. “Simone can learn how to receive others [because] through tragedy comes triumph. You’re not perfect. Everything you do, every move you make is not going to be on point, but that’s the only way you grow. So, I think as long as she learns how to receive people and embrace her mistakes. I think she’s going to learn a lesson that she needs to, in order to be a person she’s proud of. In order to be the person her son is ultimately proud of, her mother, her friends and Jordan, her partner. It’s just a matter of that journey of self and acceptance that plays a huge part in all of that.”
Being at Bringston University and in this new environment will, “influence her dreams, because it would just allow her to be more connected to herself. I feel like from that youth, to adulthood, you just start to recalibrate naturally. You’re put in situations and circumstances that you didn’t necessarily have to honor before. So, when you’re put in the fire, you figure out how to put it out. I think her experiences are really going to play a huge part of her journey, which ultimately is going to determine her benefits, her repercussions and her overall trajectory as a young adult and that plays a part in your future.”
While Homecoming will not rewrite the historical accuracies of HBCU representation on television; it will amplify the message already established: HBCUs matter. Attending an HBCU is an experience unlike any other and, it will serve as an extension of All American with the goal of inspiring and uplifting Black youth.
Simone has grown since the last time fans saw her. She’s made mistakes but she’s learned a lot along the way through her life experiences and her training to become an elite tennis player. “I definitely think she’s learned how strong she is. She’s much stronger than she anticipated, and you see a lot of that just in her work/life balance with being a college athlete. [She’s] a person who is expected to excel in school, but then also excel on the court.”
“It’s definitely a different world and I thought I’d give it to my student athletes because they have to manage themselves physically, mentally, emotionally in ways that normal students do not. Especially Black athletes [because] they’re put on a pedestal, and I think us giving praise and honor and paying homage to these athletes, paying homage to these Black student athletes, it’s just opening a door and it’s a time and a moment to celebrate them. To celebrate the legacy of HBCU culture and just the collegial lifestyle in general. I think it’s beautiful to see Black kids being celebrated in the educational space. We need that. We need that absolutely.”
Simone’s tennis dream is “definitely for the betterment of herself. Her tennis goals and dreams started, of course, loving the sport as a child, but her mother was propelling her in a way that she just didn’t resonate with anymore. And a lot of times you have to rediscover your love for something, and you have to let it go and if it comes back, it was meant for you.”
“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Look for the dream that keeps coming back. It is your destiny.’ And I really think that it’s reminiscent to that and it’s how my personal journey was. I have acted my whole life; I was a child actor. I had done it for many years and but when it was time to go to college, I told my mom, I didn’t want to do it anymore. I wanted to discover other things I was good at. I wanted to discover other things I was interested in. I wanted to see who else I could be outside of my norm, outside of what I was used to, and I had that privilege to go through those hills and valleys and the ebbs and flows of that. And I’m right back where I was supposed to be, which is in front of the camera. But also having things that my experience has brought, which was a love for writing, directing and wanting to just continue to bring stories to the forefront in all the ways I am possibly capable of. It’s a journey.”
“I’m just excited for what the show can do and I’m excited for the growth of this character. It’s been really exciting to play her; to discover and go beyond what’s on the page. It just becomes more personal that way.”
To learn more about Geffri’s thoughts on Simone, check out the full interview. The CW’s All American: Homecoming premieres Monday, February 21st at 9:00-10:00 p.m. ET.