NEW ORLEANS — Actress, singer and producer Sheryl Lee Ralph is a triple threat in the entertainment industry but was honored during this weekend's Essence Festival for something entirely different — her activism.
Ralph was honored Sunday as part of McDonald's 365Black Awards, receiving the program's advocacy award for her work fighting against HIV and AIDS.
"To be awarded for my activism feels absolutely amazing because I didn't think anyone cared about the number of people still getting infected and being affected by HIV/AIDS," Ralph said prior to the luncheon ceremony held at the Ritz Carlton.
"This is work that had to be done and I'm truly thankful that it's being recognized."
Ralph was among a group of women receiving recognition for their roles in strengthening African-American communities. CNN political commentator Symone Sanders received the Game Changer award, while Monique Vann-Brown, who owns seven McDonald's franchises in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, received the Business Trailblazer Award. In addition, Kimberly Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls CODE, which introduces young girls to the technology and computer science, received the Catalyst Award and Tishauna M. Wilson, a rising junior and computer science major at Florida A&M University, received the HBCU Forward Award.
Bryant, whose effort to get more girls of color interested in tech is in its seventh year and has reached about 8,000 students, said the award "means a lot to her."
"We now have chapters in 14 cities and have reached 8,000 students. To get this for being a catalyst in my community is near and dear to my heart," she said. "I'm all about sparking change and sparking a match under these little black and brown girls who do tech."
Sanders said she was honored to be considered a "game changer."
"I encourage everyone to strive to be radical revolutionaries and I implore you to do it now," she said. "I think it's great that McDonald's has invested time, invested talent, invested money in our communities. I think McDonald's is getting it right here and being intentional in what they're doing."
Vann-Brown said she was humbled by the attention she's received by a company that's always been a part of her life. She followed in the footsteps of her parents who own two restaurants in the Detroit area.
"I just work really hard and I'm self-motivated and for someone to recognize what I do, it's not something I look for, it's very humbling," she said.
"I just want everyone in our communities to know that anything is possible if you go after it."