Sheryl Lee Ralph On Being Honored By McDonald’s For Her HIV/AIDS Activism: “I Was Gonna Do It Anyway”
On Sunday McDonald’s held its annual 365 Black Awards during the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. Actress Essence Atkins was the host of the awards luncheon which, this year, recognized five dynamic women who are positively impacting the African American community in their own way. Those women were political commentator Symone Sanders, Black Girls Code CEO and Founder Kimberly Bryant, McDonald’s franchise owner Monique Vann-Brown, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Student Tishauna Wilson, and actress and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph.
Because the theme of McDonald’s activations at this year’s festival was “Black Forward,” when we got a chance to catch up with Ralph on the gold carpet, we asked her what Black actresses paid it forward for her and encouraged her as she got her start in the entertainment industry.
“There were so many,” said Ralph who, at 26, was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical in 1982 for her role in Dreamgirls. “I really got my start by being mentored by and poured into by so many actresses, Virginia Capers, Rosalind Cash, Judy Pace. It was just so amazing what they gave to me, what they shared with me and it really helped mold me into the woman I’m still becoming.”
Over the span of her 40-year career, Ralph, 61, has played many roles — one of our favorites being Dee Mitchell on Moesha. But it’s the part she’s played as an activist in the fight against HIV/AIDS that garnered her recognition by McDonald’s. In 1990, Ralph founded the DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware) Foundation, a national not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness and funding of HIV/AIDS as well as erasing the stigma associated with the disease. Having been in operation for 28 years now, Ralph was certainly due for some recognition, but when it came to McDonald’s honoring her at this year’s awards ceremony, the actress and mother said it felt “a little bit strange.”
“It’s really interesting because awards always make me feel a little uncomfortable because I believe I was gonna do it anyway,” she told us. “It’s difficult. It’s hard, but I was gonna do it anyway. So to be awarded for something that I was going to do anyway –something that had to be done, something that should have been done — it’s a little bit strange, but I thank McDonald’s.”