By ERINA LOVE
Grambling State University Media Bureau
Award-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph captured Grambling State University’s audience quickly as she artistically, emphatically and elegantly punctuated the words of a song as she sang “I am an endangered species, but I sing no victim’s song…”
Ralph, a new guest star on NBC’s hit show “SMASH,” was the university’s Black History Month Convocation speaker at the T.H. Harris Auditorium Thursday, grabbing the attention of visitors, faculty, staff and especially students as she used colorful, common youthful – and sometimes foul – language to show them she knows what she’s talking about as well as some of the names they call each other.
Ralph, 56, spoke about the negative impact of drugs, alcohol and unprotected sex on college students, and just how much many students fail to understand what they are doing to themselves. She said she’s not going to tell them how to dress as she held up a copy of The Gramblinite, the campus newspaper, showing a trio of young men with sagging pants in a front-page photo. She told the crowd they are who they say they are with the first three second they walk into a room to make a first impression.
“Who are you?” Ralph repeatedly asked as she sought to open up the minds of students about themselves and what they want to do with their lives. “In today’s society just getting by isn’t good enough,” said Ralph, challenging them to go above and beyond in everything they do.
Still, she encouraged the students. “You are great just for the simple fact that you are here,” added Ralph, “which means you’ve graduated high school, something that many students in today’s day and age don’t do.”
Ralph, an original cast member in the Broadway hit “Dreamgirls” and a national HIV/AIDS activist spoke about the media images of African Americans, especially in some songs and some television shows. She also encouraged the students to learn black history as she asked a series of questions about slavery’s beginnings. Ralph, the founder of the D.I.V.A (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Aware) Foundation, a non-profit organization that she started in 1990 as a memorial to the many friends she lost to AIDS, had a big impact on students, many of whom Tweeted appreciations and comments during and after the program.
“Her message was a wake up call to young black students to make us aware that we have power in our voice,” said Aliya Mitchell, a 25-year-old marketing and management major from Trinidad/Tobago.
Ralph “reminded students that “someone fought, died and swung from a tree” in Louisiana for the privilege of them sitting in the university’s auditorium seats as students.
“I loved her message. I believe that us students needed to hear something real like this, instead of the normal,” said Marcus Solomon, 20, a mass communication major from Kansas City, Mo., and the sophomore class president. “She really brought it down to the students’ level.”
“I really appreciate that she discussed how black women are portrayed in the media and how (we) should be disgusted by that. We need to not take that treatment, to respect ourselves more and give society a different image of us,” said Daisha Maddox, 22, a senior nursing major from Hartford, Conn. “Most importantly we need to love ourselves more.”
“Some come to succeed, but most come to fail,” said Ralph, wife of Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes and mother of two. “Don’t let those failing folks bring you down because one thing failure loves is company.”
Ralph credited her family as her greatest inspiration. Her 21-year-old son, Etienne Maurice, a Drexel University film major, joined her on the trip. He helped his mother with selling books, including “Redefining Diva: Life Lessons from the Original Dreamgirl” immediately after the program.
“Ralph is an amazing speaker and the university really wanted a female speaker for the Black History Convocation since we haven’t had one in many years,” said David Ponton, the university’s student activities dean.
“We are really open for ideas and proposals from students on who they want to see at the university,” added Stacey Duhon, vice president of student affairs. “There’s a committee who votes on who comes and, if budget permits, we try to bring them here.”
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