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Sheryl Lee Ralphs Crusade Against HIV/AIDS

citizen | 2/16/2012, 4:31 p.m.
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Sheryl Lee Ralph tells the Chicago Citizen why she became an HIV/AIDS activist and what can be done to spread awareness in the African-American community. (Photo Courtesy of Sheryl Lee Ralph)

During its ongoing Black History Month coverage, the Chicago Citizen is profiling African-American greats who are making history as they live their everyday lives. Today we are honoring Sheryl Lee Ralph because of her brilliant work in the arts and spirited HIV/AIDS awareness activism. The Chicago Citizen recently caught up with Ralph to find out more about her ongoing mission to promote HIV/AIDS awareness.

HIV/AIDS is an epidemic disproportionately affecting African-Americans.Fortunately, there are many people working the frontlines to educate and inform others about the prevention of the disease. Renowned actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph travels the country educating and informing the masses about the treacherous illness.

Ralphs movement to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS started when she was an original company member of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, in the 1980s. Ralph said although she was riding high from the shows success, she also dealt with the death of many friends.

I saw people just dropping dead of a mysterious disease and people just didnt want to do anything about it, Ralph told the Chicago Citizen. Thats how I became involved.

HIV/AIDS is heavily stigmatized in the African American community. When asked how Blacks can overcome the shame of the disease, Ralph said that more attention should be given to the epidemic. If we dont start singing the song We Shall Overcome we will wish we had, the actress said. Maybe its because its one more thing that we have to deal with as if its not difficult enough being Black in AmericaThis disease is silently killing people, its silently taking over peoples lives.

Ralph added that the silence must be broken to save lives.

The artist suggests that if someone is afraid they have HIV, they should stop living in fear. People are afraid of their own past behavior, thats what their afraid of, said Ralph. Theyre afraid of themselves.

According to the City of Chicagos website, there are more than 22,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago. The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) recently observed National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Feb. 7 through several community outreach programs.

HIV health disparities persist among African Americans, both locally and nationally and CDPH has taken a focused approach by targeting our efforts on the most vulnerable communities affected by HIV, said Dr. Bechara Choucair, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. HIV is preventable. That is why it is so important to know your status, HIV testing and condoms are free and available throughout the City.

In 1990, Ralph founded the nonprofit, Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware (DIVA) Foundation as a living memorial to the many friends she lost to HIV/AIDS.

The foundation focuses on HIV/AIDS awareness, testing, erasing stigma, lowering of the HIV infection rate especially as it pertains to women, girls and young people and the development of new and effective programs to combat the disease using the arts.

My DIVA Foundation is founded on the principles that arts can be transformative, Ralph told the Chicago Citizen. The arts can simply move people to feel and become aware of things that they wouldnt under other circumstances.