Sometimes I Cry
Sheryl Lee Ralph is known for Dream Girls, Moesha’s Mama, ER, Barber Shop, and several other popular television shows and movies. Aside from being a successful and versatile actress, she is an effective activist for HIV/AIDS, and she created Divas Simply Singing to remember those people she lost to the disease. It was so disappointing to her that so many people cast judgment on people with the disease. In 2003, the creator of the Black AIDS Institute asked her to come with him to the cities where people hadn’t heard much about AIDS. She had heard so many well-kept stories of women infected with HIV/AIDS.
“I was like whoa! With women come children, and then there were families. Why is no one saying anything about this? Then there was the great debate, when our vice-president sat up there when the question was posed, ‘What do you think about the rising rate of infection in black women when it comes to HIV AIDS?’ He said, ‘Huh? I wasn’t aware of that at all.’ I said, oh my god, we’ve got to do something. So these stories have always been in my head. And I sat down one day and I just started to write them down. And I was afraid because I thought I can’t write. Well, I can write. Nah, I’m too lazy to write. No, no! You have to sit and write every day! No, I can’t do it. I’m not committed enough to write. No!!!! I was giving myself all the reasons why not, and had writer’s block before I even started. And then one day I said, ‘Get over yourself! Let’s do it.’”
So Sheryl Lee Ralph sat down and started writing. She found Sherri Smith, who wrote as fast as she spoke. And before Sheryl knew it, she had nine stories. Then the Black AIDS Institute sent out a letter asking women to submit their stories, and that’s how “Sometimes I Cry” came together.
December 2005, during World AIDS Day Week, Sheryl Lee Ralph performed “Sometimes I Cry” for the first time. There was a lot of support. It stunned her. She was hoping people would be receptive, but she had no idea they would be that receptive. They started to come out by the hundreds. They had a 4-day run in Santa Monica a few weeks ago, and people were there every night. “Sometimes I Cry” made money for the foundation. Sheryl could not believe it.
“I thought we’d break even. We did a co-partnership with somebody. We made money for the foundation because people came to see the show. It’s just been amazing the kind of calls we’ve gotten since then. We’re going around the country to New Jersey, Arizona, New York 3 times in different areas. There’s been talk about off Broadway and Broadway. It’s exciting.”
“Sometimes I Cry” is about the loves, lives, and losses of women affected by HIV/AIDS. Sheryl Lee Ralph wanted to create a piece that would shed some light on the fact nobody was really talking about this disease.
“If you’re a female who is thinking about sex, or may have sex in the future, then this disease is all about you. We really have to create a movement. So for me ‘Sometimes I Cry’ is much more than a show—it’s a movement for women to really take stock of their self-esteem, their sexual well-being, their sexual rights, their reproductive rights, all of that to take stock in how they lead their sexual life.”
Sheryl gives shocking information about the new rate of AIDS infection, that it is starting to equal that of men; and it is becoming increasingly obvious that the weight and the burden of HIV is going to be borne by women, which means death.
“And in my mind, life is born of women, not death. Don’t get it twisted just because you’re young and you think sex is all about you. A lot of folks, once they have it, continue to have it, especially if they’re lucky. Good sex is a good thing to have. At the same rate, there are things like abstinence, and there is nothing wrong with abstinence. You abstain while you’re in your mama and your daddy’s house. Then you get out there on your own, and you get buck wild, but you don’t have the proper information, so therefore you’re not protecting yourself properly and you catch an STD. And HIV is definitely an STD. So I’m saying, let’s give all of the people the proper information so that they can make good choices for themselves. So I’ve got this show to let you know, be aware.”
The show is basically different women’s stories with each one running about 15-20 minutes. In this one-woman show, she takes on these true-to-life characters herself and becomes everything from a kid to a 68-year-old grandmother who ends up getting HIV/AIDS.
“I am not making this up. She’s out there, and it’s real. Miss Chanel—the successful entrepreneur who lives the life of Chanel: The Manolablonic shoes, the Chanel suit, the Chanel bag, and she never knew or thought that sex would be or could not be good for her. Why would it be bad? I’m still working on the 11-year-old twins having sex with Bubba to get ‘they hay done and they nails did’—both of them infected with AIDS, and Bubba’s 35.”
Sheryl had read the book, The Purpose Driven Life, and she realized that it was her purpose—to create a movement to help young women take stock of their lives and move forward in a healthy way. She realized it is harder to have a message that means so much to her, yet she is constantly hearing people tell her to quit talking about AIDS.
“Until somebody can introduce me to the test tube babies, we all get here as a result of one particular act—sex! We may talk about sex, but mostly in a salacious manner, but we need to talk about sex in a healthier human manner. And right about now, it’s not about birth; it’s about death, and it is very real.”
Even though Los Angeles is home for Sheryl Lee Ralph, she has really enjoyed doing the show in other places where she found people to be so supportive and excited about it. The church doors have swung wide open, and she is very happy about that.
“I don’t care what anybody says. The black church is a powerful institution, and we got to get right with the churches.”
“During that run here in Los Angeles, from the Thursday to that Sunday, people kept coming back and bringing their children. One night we had 15 kids in the audience and they were all paying attention. We end the show with a 30-minute question and answer period because I want to have an intimate place where we can talk. And it was great to hear kids ask questions, and to have parents say, ‘Wow, I didn’t think about that.’ That’s been some of the highs—to really see that we’re able to effect change.
“I am married to Senator Hughes from Pennsylvania. He’s up for re-election in 2 years. Who knows, he might want to be governor. I’m doing ER now. Who knows? Maybe a series next season. CBS wouldn’t be a bad place to be—anything can happen.”
Sheryl wrote a script called Red Rum and Coke. Red Rum is “murder” spelled backwards. The screenplay is about a mother in her 40s with a very successful daughter in her 20s, and the things that she thinks she knows about her daughter are not at all what she knows. The more she digs, the more she finds out. It is set in Jamaica, where Sheryl would love to do a movie someday.
“People ask me all the time if I’m going to make “Sometimes I Cry” into a book, or a film, or stage performance, or perform it at schools. So I think I’m going to have to put it in all of those forms in some way or another. Oddly enough, when I was doing Dream Girls on Broadway, there was this dreadlock ‘commedianish, social commentaryish’ person who had this strange name. If you could catch her, you would run after your show to go see her. And her name was Whoopi Goldberg. And she was doing this one-woman show. And I remember seeing that show and thinking what it must be like to be up there talking about things that she was passionate about, and affecting people, and I always held on to that. One day I was doing ‘Sometimes I Cry’ and I was like, oh my god, it’s a Whoopi Goldberg moment!
“I really have to thank the people I work with, like Sherri the typist, and then Scott Hamilton, who produces with me. We’re working on doing a tour, and getting it on the college campuses. We’re working with Dr. Lightfoot at USC, and we’re putting together a complete package for people who ask, ‘What do I do next?’ I’d like to be able to hand young people between the ages of 13 and 21 years old a DVD with a workbook and say ‘these are some of the things you might want to consider.’ I love being able to have that sort of synergy with someone.