Interviews

A Diva Runs the World: Sheryl Lee Ralph Lends Her Support to the 2016 Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run in Jamaica

Sheryl Lee Ralph

She may be famous for her contagious dimpled smile and her impeccable talent as a seasoned actress, but the dashing Diva, Sheryl Lee Ralph is as famous for her talent as she is for philanthropy. A bona fide “roots girl,” Ralph has graced Broadway stages, television screens, and microphones across the globe all while using her platforms to raise awareness and money for causes dear to her heart and homeland. This year, Ralph has accepted the call to serve as a patron for the Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run. We sat down to converse with her about her roots, her role as a patron, and her plans to revisit the stage.

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Rohan Hunigan (c), a cancer remission patient is flanked by Patrons of the 2016 Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run Olympian Novelene Williams Mills and Jamaican born, Hollywood actress, singer and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph.

We know you are a proud ambassador for all things Jamaican. Tell us about your Jamaican roots. 

I am the original Jamerican. In fact, I’m very proud to say that I actually created that word back in the early 80s–you can look it up in a Gleaner article about me during the time that I was on Broadway doing DreamGirls. I am the half American and very much Jamaican daughter of renowned fashion designer (and originator of the kareeba), Ivy Ralph, OD. Jamaica, the culture and its people have had an indelible effect on the woman that I’m still becoming.

Tell us a little bit about your work with the Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run. How did you get involved in this effort?

I met a group of Sagicor’s powerful women at the Jamaica Cancer Society’s annual Breast Cancer Awareness luncheon back in October, and they asked me to consider being involved in their efforts to carry on the fight against cancer in Jamaica. Cancer has hit close to home before, as I lost my father to prostate cancer, so it was an easy decision for me to do this.

Over the last 17 years, the Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run has donated over J$166 million to a number of organizations and facilities that enhance the health of children across the island. This year’s proceeds will go towards Kids with Cancer, the Black River Hospital’s pediatric unit, and purchase a mammography machine for the Jamaica Cancer Society’s mobile breast cancer screening project. This year, the goal is to raise J$50 million for these beneficiaries.

This being its 18th year, the 5.5km run will take place on Sunday, February 22 in New Kingston. The corporation hopes to raise J50million to boost the fight against cancer among Jamaican children. It’s a worthy cause to which we can all lend our support in some way.

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Sagicor’s Richard Byles, President and CEO and Dr the Honourable Raby Danvers Williams, Chairman with Patrons of the 2016 Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run: Sheryl Lee Ralph, Jamaican born Hollywood actress, singer, activist and Novelene Williams Mills, Olympian and breast cancer survivor; Michael Fraser, cancer survivor and President and CEO Sagicor Life of the Cayman Islands and Earl Jarrett, Chairman of the Jamaica Cancer Society.

We know you are a member of the dynamic and distinguished Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. what does that mean to you and what is the connection between this illustrious organization and your multiple charitable efforts?

The founders of our illustrious sorority were women of purpose and intent.  Understanding that education is the great equalizer, they were intent on making a difference in their communities by becoming as informed and as educated as they possibly could be, so that they would leave a lasting legacy. One hundred and three years later, we are still building upon that immeasurable legacy. Health, education, and community service are all very important to me and my Sorors.

Why is it important for Jamaicans at home and abroad to support the Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run?

There are so many Jamaicans all around the world and we need them to remain engaged with Jamaica. In some cases, people no longer have family on the island, so they feel there’s no need to lend their support, but Jamaica is still home and is definitely in need of their support. Some of our greatest support comes from those Jamaicans in the diaspora who left seeking advancement, success, and education. For the Sagicor Sigma Run, no donation is too small. In other words, J$1000 is as good as $1000USD or €1000. We simply need people to lend their support in every way possible!

We admire the way that you use your platform to empower others and to uplift Jamaica. What drives you to constantly give back?

It is simply the way I was raised.  My parents would always quote the Bible text, “to whom much is given, much is required,” so it’s intrinsic for me to give back. I climb the ladder of success, it’s important for me to reach back and help others so that we can climb together.

Who inspires you?

My parents, Ivy Ralph and the late Dr. Stanley Ralph. They have loved me unconditionally and have taught me to appreciate the value in giving back to others.

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Jamaican born, Hollywood actress, singer and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph, Patron of the 2016 Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run was supported by her mother Ivy Ralph and brother Michael Ralph.

We understand you’ll be spending most of your time doing charitable work on this particular project but when you travel to Jamaica, what is one thing/place/food you must have/go/do?

As soon as I get off the plane, I have to go to Gloria’s in Port Royal and get some fried fish, festival, and a Red Stripe with sorrel!

In addition to supporting the Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run, what do you think Jamaicans can do to make Jamaica greater?

Love her better. Respect her.

We remember you from all the way back to “Dreamgirls” and “It’s a Living” to your more recent roles on television. Are there any upcoming acting projects you’d like to tell us about?

A new series is in the works and I’m producing a new Broadway bound musical, “Mighty Real,” about the life and music of the first disco ‘Queen,’ Sylvester.  We open in San Francisco soon.

How can people contribute to the Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run?

Visit https://www.sagicorjamaica.com/aboutsagicor/sigma-run/donate to donate and to learn more about the mission of the event. There are photos and information about previous events there.

About the author

Kerri-Ann M. Smith

Dr. Kerri-Ann M. Smith is an author and educator. She is an Assistant Professor of Academic Literacy at Queensborough Community College, CUNY. She is a patois translator, a wife, and the mother of a gregarious little girl. She is a senior writer for jamaicans.com.