Activist voices a change

Actress and Broadway singer Sheryl Lee Ralph made a stop at Florida A&M University to break the silence about HIV and AIDS with her show, “Sometimes I Cry.”

Ralph performed her one-woman show Saturday evening in front of a packed Lee Hall auditorium of students, adults and children from around the community.

As an honored AIDS activist, Ralph’s stage play “Sometimes I Cry” explores the lives of real women infected with the virus in an effort to motivate people to become more educated about the subject.

“I am shocked about how little people know about the disease,” Ralph said during her performance. “We have got to do better.”

During her show, Ralph recounted her days playing the role of Deena Jones in the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls.” According to Ralph, throughout her years on Broadway, she witnessed many people dying from what was then, the “mystery disease.”

Her own alarm at the impact of AIDS among her friends, colleagues and throughout the black community is what prompted her to break the silence about the deadly virus, Ralph said.

“People were living one day and dying the next,” she said, “and nobody wanted to talk about it.”

When Amber Pannell, 21, a senior physical therapy student from Jacksonville, learned of Ralph’s play and the message behind it, she knew she had to attend.

“It’s important that we, as college students, educate ourselves on the issue,” Pannell said.

In “Sometimes I Cry,” Ralph used words, movement and song to tell the story of real women and their battle with HIV and AIDS. Coming from diverse backgrounds, these women range from an award-wining entrepreneur dying of AIDS, to a retired widow who is fighting for her life after finding out her partner is HIV positive.

Ralph, who is also the celebrity spokeswoman for National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, said there are too many people who do not know their status. She made a cry to the audience to wake up and realize the dangers of not getting tested.

“We are living in a state of ignorance,” Ralph said. “We are having unprotected sex and just not getting tested.”

Melissa Moore, 21, a fourth-year business administration student from Newark, N.J., also recognized the importance of getting tested.

“I think I owe it to myself and my future relationships to be aware of my status,” Moore said.

Ralph also highlighted the lives of HIV-infected basketball legend Magic Johnson and rapper Eazy-E who died from AIDS in 1995. Ralph used their stories to show the virus is not biased.

“This disease is very real,” Ralph said. “It does not discriminate.”

Ralph also encouraged the audience to speak up and become better informed about the virus. She stressed the importance of being responsible, practicing safe sex and getting tested.

“HIV is 100 percent preventable,” Ralph said. “If we act responsibly, it doesn’t have to happen.”

In the end, Ralph said she hoped her show can help bring a change in how people think and respond to the topic of HIV and AIDS.

“I just hope that one person has heard something that will make them reconsider how they live their life,” Ralph said.