Family Matters, one of the most beloved sitcoms of adolescent millennials and teenage ’80s babies, debuted on this day 30 years ago.
From 1989 to 1998, the memorable series showcased the Winslow family as they experienced various situations in life that many black families have gone through. In addition to the countless times we laughed at the humor provided by Steve Urkel, Eddie, Laura, Harriette, Carl and even Waldo, the show provided us with an overabundance of teachable moments for all those who watched. To commemorate the anniversary of the show that gave us smiles and sometimes brought us to tears, let’s check out 9 times this sitcom provided us with life lessons that we can still use today.
1.) "Two-Income Family" (Season 1, Episode 2)
"Two-Income Family." Season 1, Episode 2. Source: SimKL (Warner Bros.)
At the beginning of the first season, we find that Harriette has lost her job after asking for a raise. After the family endures financial difficulties because of the lack of a second income, Harriette finds herself applying for the job as head of security. At first, she is turned down. But Harriette doesn’t give up. She proudly states her case as to why she is more than qualified for the position and leaves a grand impression, ultimately landing the job.
Seeing a determined and persistent mother stand tall in the face of adversity, taught us how to believe in ourselves instead of doubting our abilities. It’s easy to think that we’re not qualified for certain things, but if we choose to be confident in our skills and our beliefs, we will prove others and even ourselves wrong.
2.) "Fight the Good Fight" (Season 2, Episode 20)
"Fight the Good Fight." Season 1, Episode 2. Source: ShareTV (Warner Bros.)
Centered around Black History Month, this episode finds Laura very enthusiastic about creating a black history class for her school. She creates a petition for people to sign, and also earns the support of Steve Urkel, who works to convince the basketball players to sign it. However, they face a hurdle after finding a note that states, “If you want black history, go back to Africa,” along with a racial slur painted on her locker.
Of course, the entire Winslow family is fuming, and they try to tend to Laura’s feelings. She appears inconsolable until Grandma Winslow finally makes a breakthrough; she reminisces about a time in her childhood when her peers wouldn't let her into the library. Preaching resiliency, she tells ling Laura how she continued to return to the library every day, until they finally let her in. Altogether, she encourages Laura to not give up on trying to change the world for the better.
The following day, Laura places posters of influential black men around the school, which intrigues the students and helps ease the racial tension. Ultimately, her petition for a black history class is approved.
Just as young leaders today face opposition when in similar situations, the takeaway from this episode is that it is our responsibility to fight for what is right — our ancestors and elders have endured too much for us not to.
3.) "I Should Have Done Something" (Season 2, Episode 25)
"I Should Have Done Something." Season 2, Episode 25. Source: IMDB (Warner Bros.)
In this episode, Carl is acting out of sorts. The police officer struggles with the anniversary of a day in which a hostage situation went terribly wrong; the hostage was shot and killed at the hands of a robber. As an officer of the law, Carl holds himself to the highest expectation of protecting and serving others. So it’s not surprising that he’s distraught over the fact that he didn’t save the victim’s life. Ultimately, he meets with the victim’s widow, who helps console him. She reassures Carl that he’s not at fault, regardless of how guilty he feels.
As heart-wrenching as this episode was, it taught us that unfortunate things happen to people in our lives – many times, outside of our control. As a result, we have to remember that we can’t control everything no matter how much we think we can.
4.) "A Test of Friendship" (Season 3, Episode 14)
"A Test of Friendship." Season 3, Episode 14. Source: YouTube (Warner Bros.)
Eddie feels challenged while studying for a chemistry test, so he asks Steve Urkel to help him cheat. Initially, Urkel declines, and Eddie’s friend Waldo expresses shock at Eddie’s request. Waldo tells Eddie that cheating is wrong — you earn the grade you earn.
Soon enough, Eddie successfully bribes Urkel into helping him cheat, by pretending to have a cold. Unsurprisingly, Steve gets caught trying to cheat for Eddie, but he refuses to snitch to the teacher about which student he was helping, even while facing expulsion. Although Eddie feels bad, he remains selfish in thinking he’d rather let Urkel take the fall than tell the truth. Laura talks some sense into him by saying that telling the truth is the right thing, and that it’s unfair to take advantage of the loyal friendship between he and Urkel. Eventually, Eddie confesses so Urkel doesn’t get expelled, and they both serve a suspension before getting to retake the test.
Overall, this episode helped remind us that although it’s often easier to cover up something you did wrong and hide from your mistakes, it’s far more noble to be the person that steps up to admit what they did wrong.
5.) "It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Urkel" (Season 4, Episode 10)
"It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Urkel." Season 4, Episode 10. Source: Video Store Counter (Warner Bros.)
After Laura goes Christmas shopping, Steve breaks an expensive crystal ornament she just bought for her mother. Out of frustration, she tells him to go away while wishing he knew what it was like to be her. While waiting for Eddie to pick her up, Laura’s guardian angel shows up, and takes them to an alternate world. The angel grants her wish, but also makes her see what it’s like to be Urkel. Through the time warp, Laura ends up seeing how much Steve tries to show love to Laura and others, but is always subjected to being put down or shunned for simply being who he is.
Through this revelation, she sees that she should be much nicer to Steve, because at the end of the day he really does mean well. Thankfully, Laura’s guardian angel gives her a second chance to redeem herself, in which she chooses not to yell at Steve but express relief over his not getting hurt during the accident. Kindly, she asks him to spend Christmas with the Winslow family.
From this holiday special, we can all be reminded of the notion that we don’t know what it’s like to spend a day in another person’s shoes, and we never know what another person may be going through. So we should always attempt to show compassion and kindness to others.
6.) "Good Cop, Bad Cop" (Season 5, Episode 15)
"Good Cop, Bad Cop." Season 5, Episode 15. Source: SimKL (Warner Bros.)
During this episode, Eddie encounters one of the most undesired situations we as black people hate to be subjected to – racial profiling. While driving through a predominantly white neighborhood, Eddie is pulled over for committing a traffic violation. Although he was in the wrong for the minor infraction, he was unjustly suspected of fitting the description of a carjacker, and is forced out of his car and into handcuffs. When Carl meets with the two white officers, he uncovers one of the cop’s prejudiced beliefs against black people.
“Your kid was in the wrong part of town,” the officer coldly claims.
Even though what Eddie endured was one he didn’t deserve, it served as a lesson for many black families, particularly in terms of the kinds of hard talks we must have with our black sons and daughters on how to survive in the racist society we live in.
7.) "The Gun" (Season 6, Episode 15)
To the dismay of black people everywhere, gun violence continues to find its way into the schools and surrounding neighborhoods our youth live in. During this episode, Laura gets robbed for her jacket at gunpoint, and is threatened to not report the crime unless she wants to get shot. Scared for her life, Laura feels that she must get a gun in order to defend herself and feel safe. In the midst of attempting to purchase a gun outside school, one of Laura’s friends ends up shot at the hands of the same gang that robbed Laura, because she refused to give up her sneakers. Instead of perpetuating more violence, Laura and Urkel decide to set up a gun-buyback drive. They hope it encourages people in the community to stop the violence, and motivate them to save lives instead of end them.
Overall, this episode is way too fitting for today’s times, as our youth continue to turn to violence as a solution to their problems instead of seeking other positive means. With this episode’s emphasis on advocating for gun control, we learn that we have the power to implement safety programs and measures that can keep our kids safe. It may not happen overnight, but step-by-step, it can happen.
8.) "My Big Brother" (Season 7, Episode 8)
"My Big Brother." Season 7, Episode 8. Source: Fandom (Warner Bros.)
In this episode, Urkel volunteers to serve as a role model via the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America program. This is how we’re introduced to the character 3J, a gritty but charming boy who has some strong pickpocketing skills.
During a tutoring session, Steve uncovers that 3J can’t read, which causes the young boy to get frustrated and storm out the room. Seeing himself as the right person to help solve the problem, Steve finds 3J’s neighborhood and talks to him about his inability to read. Through conversation, 3J admits that his other big brothers promised to teach him how to read, but never kept their word. Steve energetically shows 3J that reading is a powerful tool, and that by fostering a general love for reading and learning, he’ll be able to go anywhere.
Touching on the importance of mentorship, this episode reminds us that it is our duty to pay it forward and uplift the generations that come after us.
9.) "Out with the Old" (Season 9, Episode 1)
"Out With The Old." Season 9, Episode 1. Source: YouTube (Warner Bros.)
In anticipation of Laura’s upcoming bachelor charity auction, we find Urkel thinking that he needs to give himself a makeover that is similar to his alter ego, Stefan Urquelle, in order to win Laura’s love. Meanwhile, Steve’s love interest Myra, continues to tell him he doesn’t have to change a thing, and that he is perfect just the way he is. .
With his renewed and dapper look, Urkel does succeeds, as Laura bids on him, and even gives him a kiss. Sadly, Steve feels a simultaneous sense of disappointment, realizing that he’ll always consider himself an unpopular “geek” as long as he dates Myra.
Serving as the first episode of the last season, this episode shows us that even though Steve got what we wanted, he still had to sacrifice part of himself to do so. Many times, we have people in our corner that genuinely care about who we are, unfiltered and unfixed. Through this lesson, we can understand that we should accept ourselves for the personality traits and physical characteristics we have, and embrace those who choose to love us for who we are.
All in all, Family Matters remains one of the best black ’90s k sitcoms in history, because of its intentional focus on delivering messages and life lessons to audiences. . Throughout nine quality seasons, we were provided with numerous teachable moments that still apply in our lives today. If you catch yourself ever watching reruns of the show, take some time to look more closely and discover the message this dedicated cast tried to deliver with every appearance.
Photo: Getty Photo Archives