When we think of a legend three words come to mind – Sheryl Lee Ralph. Born in Waterbury, Connecticut, raised in Jamaica and Long Island, New York, Sheryl Lee Ralph has done numerous and countless things in her career thus far. In 1973, Sheryl Lee Ralph was crowned Miss Black Teen-age New York. At age 19, Ralph was the youngest female to graduate from Rutgers University. In the same year, she was nominated by Glamour magazine as one of the top ten college women in America. Initially, Ralph’s career path was headed into medicine, but Ralph innately quit pre-med classes for the performing arts, and that’s where her rise to legendary status began.
In 1982, Ralph began her career on stage and was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress as she portrayed Deena Jones in the stage-play Dreamgirls, a part that would later be portrayed by Beyoncé Knowles. In her first leading role in a movie she played alongside Denzel Washington as his wife in The Mighty Quinn. In 1992, Ralph starred as Robert De Niro’s mistress in Mistress. Let’s run down the 90’s: Ralph had roles in The Flintstones, Sister Act II: Back in the Habit, and Distinguished Gentlemen. Ralph’s performance with Danny Glover won her an Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress in To Sleep With Anger. When I asked Ms. Ralph which role she best enjoyed, she joked, “It doesn’t hurt to get paid to get in bed with Denzel!”
On television, Ms. Ralph has held countless roles. She played Etienne Toussaint-Bouvier on Designing Women, “It’s a Living,” her own series, “New Attitude,” the George Foreman series, “George,” and the portrayal of the infamous Dee Mitchell as Brandy’s step-mom in the series, “Moesha,” where she was voted TV’s favorite mom. Ralph also broke new ground on Showtime’s sitcom “Barbershop,” where Ralph played Claire, a post-operative transsexual.
With such an extensive resume, one would easily think that Ralph was placed on this earth to act, but Ralph’s biggest passion and concern deals with the HIV-AIDS epidemic that’s sweeping the African-American Community. I interviewed Ralph and found a woman that not only cares, but is truly passionate about the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Ralph founded the D.I.V.A. (Devinely Inspired Victorious Annointed) Foundation, a national non-profit charitable organization in 1990 as a memorial to many friends and loved ones she’s lost to HIV/AIDS. The organization uses resources to create awareness to combat HIV/AIDS such as music and entertainment to inform others of the deep impact of the disease. When I interviewed Ralph, I heard such sincerity in her voice; there’s no doubting that this is where the real importance lies in her life.
RM: Tell me about the D.I.V.A. Foundation?
SLR: The D.I.V.A. Foundation was started as a charitable not-for-profit organization for many friends who died from HIV/AIDS. It gives us an outlet to help remember those that passed and bring awareness to the deadly disease. D.I.V.A. is an acronym that stands for: Devinely Inspired Victorious Annointed.
RM: Ms. Ralph, Back in February, AIDS Healthcare Foundation hosted an event to kick off World Condom Day and you used your voice in a PSA but unfortunately the L.A. FOX affiliate refused to air it. Why do you think they pulled it?
SLR: Well you know I think it’s terrible that this disease is swept under the rug as much as it is. People can get so easily upset about the word “condom” but want to talk about so much stuff that the we shouldn’t give a damn about when words like “condom” will help save our lives. We need to be more vocal about the things that’s gonna affect our communities especially the African American communities.
RM: Ms. Ralph, can you talk about your play, “Sometimes I Cry”?
SLR: Well this was started by in 2005 in Los Angeles about women infected with this disease. At the time I felt that women’s stories weren’t being heard and right now African American women are leading the way in deaths with this fight. So this play that is now taken on nationally shows the reality of what women have gone through and continue to struggle with in their quest to overcome this disease.
RM: Where can people go to find out about “Sometimes I Cry” and dates?
RM: Ms. Ralph, what’s your take on equality for the gay and lesbian communities?
SLR: I feel that everyone should have a choice and right to do what they want to do no matter who you are and what you stand for. This is America and as an American the choice is yours.
RM: Ms. Ralph what advice could you give to young professionals like myself and others who want to not only build their craft, but use their voice as you have done?
SLR: Well first I would say do your homework and research. Often times we get into something and don’t know what we’re talking about or doing. Make sure your doing something with a passion and drive. Not because you think its what your suppose to do. But make sure you know what you doing.
RM: What can we expect next for Ms. Sheryl Lee Ralph?
SLR: Well right now just to continue with plays and fight for HIV/AIDS. Everyone can go to: www.SometimesICry.org to find when the next play will be and what city. I will continue to be vocal in as many ways that I can until significant change occurs. Also I’m starting a master class for aspiring actors that will be national and I believe will began in the south . More information will become available on my sites.
So as we see, this is one legend that isn’t stopping anytime soon. And her quest for the fight against HIV/AIDS is growing daily. And her Journey to Africa proves this. Visit www.DivasSimplySinging.com and www.SometimesICry.org to find out about plays. And to find testing facilities, visit www.testtogether.org