From the entire Red Pump Project team, we are thrilled to share with you a guest post from the illustrious Sheryl Lee Ralph! We thank Sheryl for writing the special story below and for using her talents in singing and acting to benefit lives affected by HIV/AIDS.
Please join us in welcoming Sheryl to the Red Pump Project family, by reading her story below and discover why she is “divinely inspired and victoriously AIDS aware.”
I am Sheryl Lee Ralph, founding director of the DIVA Foundation: Divinely Inspired Victoriously AIDS Aware, divinely inspired, victoriously AIDS aware and creator of Divas Simply Singing, the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country.
I am asked all the time how did I get involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS and why after all these years do I still care. At the end of the day, I tell people simply that I stood witness to such an ugly time in America and truly it forever changed me. I was a young woman in the original company of DreamGirls on Broadway and that’s when I started seeing my friends drop dead of a mysterious disease. They were sick one day and dead tomorrow. Many of them became sick, some developed strange purple marks on their bodies and some passed away.
Nobody wanted to talk about it, nobody wanted to do anything about it. Everybody was afraid of that “gay men’s cancer”, but this has never been the proper phrase or description since I have always seen men and women, young and old, black white and others die a death without dignity. I’d seen so many different types of just plain old ordinary human beings fall to GRID. There was no AIDS then it was just a gay related immune deficiency disease and it was awful. There was such stigma, shame, deep silence and that silence allowed the disease to grow into what we now know as HIV/AIDS.
AIDS blew out the flame of life up and down Broadway like candles on a birthday cake. In the midst of one of the greatest times in my life I was in the storm that would become one of the worst times in my life. Seeing dancers feet turned into lead weight because of neuropathy that kept them on the ground unable to dance and soar through the sky. Singers who voices were silenced, lost never to be heard from again. So many young and beautiful people, talented people, and kind people are cut down in the prime of their lives and that’s why I still care; because as a young woman I was changed forever. I can’t believe that on my watch this disease has come back around cloaked once again under shame and silence. Still the kind of silence that has allowed the disease to grow and now claim more young lives.
HIV/AIDS is 100% preventable, meaning it doesn’t have to happen. Early detection is the key to a better quality of life. AIDS is not the death sentence it used to be. The number one reason most folks don’t tell people they have HIV is because they don’t know they have it.
Get tested! Know your status. The life you save might be your own.
Note: If you would like to see the 25th annual DIVAS Simply Singing Show, save the date for October 24 and visit here to learn more. Also, if you want to see the show sooner, click here to learn more about the August 22 showcase.