Sheryl Lee Ralph On HIV/AIDS Awareness
Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our contribution from Urban Health correspondents (and husband and wife) physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson. The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans. Please feel free to send them questions via firstname.lastname@example.org. We promise to keep it anonymous.
Sheryl Lee Ralph is a successful entertainer that we have all come to know and love in film, TV, and Broadway. In addition to her amazing list of award-winning work, equally as impressive is her role as a humanitarian and AIDS activist. Creator of the DIVA Foundation (Divinely Inspired Victoriously AIDS Aware), Ralph is on a mission to make this an AIDS-free community.
JET: Can you tell us what has motivated your passion for educating the community about HIV/AIDS?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: For me it all started 35 years ago when I made my Broadway debut in the original company of Dreamgirls. In the midst of those great times came the worst. That was when my friends, company members, started dropping dead and nobody wanted to talk about it. When I saw my friends die under stigma and shame, I had to do something.
JET: You have teamed up with some important sponsors to increase awareness about HIV/AIDS and the importance of knowing your status. What is this campaign promoting?
SLR: We have teamed up with OraSure who created OraQuick® the in-store, at-home HIV test. You can get tested in the privacy of your own home. In this season of giving, we have come together to let people know there is nothing wrong with knowing your status. For every kit that you buy, OraQuick will give one to the DIVA Foundation that we can distribute to the community. Give the gift of knowing. Know your status and share your status. Get tested.
JET: As someone who witnessed first-hand the devastation of HIV/AIDS when the epidemic first began, what changes–both good and bad–have you seen up to this point as it relates to public perception, life with the disease, and activism?
SLR: It has remained hard except for the fact that it used to be a death sentence. I have at least five friends this year who made it to the age of 50. When I look at that, I know things have changed. But on the downside, it is becoming a STI [sexually transmitted infection] that your teenagers can get and it just doesn’t have to happen. But it happens because of stigma, shame, and silence. I’m saddened by what has happened in West Africa with Ebola, but if you are a living, breathing, sexual human being you have a far greater chance of becoming infected with HIV than you do Ebola.
JET: What can we do as a community to erase the stigma associated with HIV infection?
SLR: We have to keep talking about it, we have to be out loud about it, we cannot sweep it under the rug. We have to speak to our young people in a way that is responsible.
JET: Your DIVA Foundation has done such important work over the years in raising HIV/AIDS awareness. Are there any upcoming events you have planned for the remainder of the year or 2015?
SLR: About five years ago I created something called the Sisters Circle for HIV infected and affected women. One of the things we want to do is create and build a DIVA house. This year, for World AIDS Day on Crowd Rise we are launching the DIVA house challenge where we are inviting people to come on and make a donation.
JET: Finally, you continue to grace us with your presence on hit shows like Instant Mom and Ray Donovan, what can your fans look forward to from you in 2015?
SLR: Tune in to Instant Mom on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. [ET] on Nick at Nite. Ray Donovan has been picked up for a third season. If you love Claudette go to @Sho_RayDonovan and tell everybody how much you love Claudette. I’ve been producing Mighty Real, an off-Broadway musical about Sylvester. We will be running in San Francisco at the Brava theatre in February.
JET: Where can we learn more?
SLR: If you want to know more go to oraquick.com and visit the diva foundation where on World AIDS Day you can learn more information.
It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!
About the Doctors: Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show. For more from the doctors, visit their website at www.urbanhousecall.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!