Ebony S. Muhammad (EM): Please tell me about who Sheryl Lee Ralph is. What was your upbringing like, and how did that influence the current path you’re on?
Sheryl Lee Ralph (SLR): I always thought I was going to be a doctor or a lawyer, because you know with my Jamerican roots you’re supposed to do something to really change the world or help the world in some definitive way. For my family it was education, education, education.
Every family should have a doctor, ever family should have a lawyer, etc. It was that sort of drive, but I knew what my calling was and it wasn’t to be a doctor or lawyer. I was a communicator, I was a late blooming writer, and that’s how I found myself and that’s how I was able to follow my dreams.
Balance is everything. A life well lived is a life where one has been able to find balance. It’s when you get off balance that one finds themselves in trouble. For me, people always ask me how do I look the way I look… I don’t eat much, I work out regularly, and I try to maintain an even temperament so I don’t curse people out. I try to go through life living an acceptable life; acceptable to myself and acceptable to my God.
EM: In regards to women feeling empowered and finding their creativity….I hear women who believe that due to having children or not finishing school, they don’t think they still have an opportunity to go after their dreams. How important is it for us as women to find an outlet and creative venture, a way to have fulfillment and to bring balance to the day to day struggles?
SLR: It’s only important if it’s what you want to do. It’s only important if it’s what you want to do. You know, some women, raising healthy children is an incredible accomplishment. For some women, having a son that doesn’t go to jail is an incredible accomplishment. For some women, being married is an incredible accomplishment.
For some women, just being able to get up in the morning and look at both of their breasts…that is an incredible accomplishment. You must figure out what is most important to you. Everybody doesn’t need their own business.
Everybody doesn’t need their own star on the Hollywood walkway. Everybody doesn’t need their name up in lights. You have to figure out what do you need, who are you? Once you realize what that is and decide to go and get it, nothing will stop you.
Most people do not achieve their dreams, because that’s not really what they want! Certain one’s want it bad enough to do everything that is necessary to make it happen. Where you are has nothing to do with stopping you from making your dreams come true.
EM: With the years of experience and versatile roles within entertainment, what are your thoughts about the way today’s image of Black people in entertainment has evolved? There seems to be, to me, less positive images and roles for us to cast in.
SLR: We have taken part in it. We are taking a downward slide. We have been so much a part of it that that crazy Lauren Lesenger said, “N*g*er, N*g*er, N*g*er…”, and what upset me about that is for a few years a lot of young people have heard me say you’re going to keep on using this word, trying to own this word, and someone is going to say to you, “N*g*er” and you’re going to have to take it because you let it be okay.
It hurt me to my core to hear it and see it come true. It hurt me to my core that I want to see the outrage. It hurt me to my core, because we obviously have not hit rock bottom when it comes to what is okay for us.
We have got to do better, because I don’t see any other group of people trying to embrace the hurt that has been put upon them. The only other group of people that comes close to that is gay people. That’s the only other group that I can think of that comes close to embracing the worst of them that society has put on them.
That woman (Lauren Lesenger) quite literally got on the radio and said, “N*g*er, you ain’t ‘Suger Honey Ice Tea’. You all seem to think its okay so why do you want white me to think anymore of you?” That hurt me terribly.
Some people say that they don’t care what people call them. Well guess what? You may not care about what they call you but you, dag-on-sure, will care when they call your kids that! You will care when you pay $35,000 for your kid to go to that private school that you can afford to go to and they call your child that, and they tell the parents of that child, “Well you need to get used to it, because it’ll happen again”. You will care then.
To all the young girls who think it’s okay to get on T.V. and show your behind, and I mean for real show your behind, because everybody is dropping their drawers nowadays, and they think it’s okay. Every young black woman who calls another black woman, “B*t*h” needs to rethink that language, because “B*t*h” is not who we are. N*g*er is not who we are. Skeezer is not who we are. That is not who we are, and we’ve been sold a bill of goods that is completely worthless!
We need to let them back down and leave them by the way side, and stop carrying that into our future! Something is wrong. We have not gone through what we went through to come out on this side like this.
It’s not until folks really decide to do something about it that anything is going to change. It’s not going to change until we decide that it’s got to change.
EM: Let’s talk a little bit about your work in the community with HIV/AIDS advocacy (The Diva Foundation) in regards to seeing a change and what it’s going to take to bring about that change.
SLR: I do an incredible amount of work around HIV/AIDS, and sometimes I am just concerned about the lack of care and attention we seem to want to give ourselves. We need some care. We need care and we need some attention, and we’re not giving that attention to ourselves.
In Houston, there is a certain section of the city that has a HIV/AIDS rate that is twice that of the United States; twice that anywhere in the United States! I wonder where is the outrage? Where are the folks who are going to say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute”? In my mind I’m like, “Not on my watch”. No! Unacceptable! Because we’re letting it be okay for our children. It’s not okay for our children. We’ve got to do something better, we’ve got to do something more.
EM: Thank you so much for your time and mind. Is there anything you would like to add?
We are also about to celebrate the 20th year of Divas Simply Singing (October 9th). They can visit our website at http://www.divassimplysinging.com .
EM: Yes ma’am! Again, thank you for your time and beautiful spirit!
SLR: My honor.