Actress, Original Broadway Dreamgirl and HIV Activist, Sheryl Lee Ralph joined me on World AIDS Day to discuss the arts role in the fight against HIV/AIDS and how you can take part in it!
Candace Rose: Can you tell us about the HIV photo contest and your role in the initiative?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: "You know, I'm so happy to be a part of Bristol-Myers Squibb 'Fight HIV Your Way Contest'. It's a wonderful opportunity for people to show the world who they are and let them experience the magic of you and it's so great because what we've seen is people have been taking their pictures, they've been telling their story and people have just been so touched by so much of what they've seen and it's been great and a wonderful experience. And as the person who gets to speak and talk to people about the project, I'm happy to let people know, you can be a part of this and fight HIV your way."
Candace Rose: What role has the arts played in raising awareness about HIV and reducing the stigma associated with it?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: "Well, you know, as an artist I've always felt that there is room for the arts in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Over these past 30 years people have heard a lot of speeches; a lot of numbers and statistics have been thrown at people but we can see by the rising rates in infection, you know that sometimes those numbers aren't really sticking with people. So what can we do? Well, I think that we've got to think outside of the box, give them a great song to remember, give them an incredible photograph to look at, tell them a story. Put together a stage piece and people will be touched in a place that really matters and that's their heart. You know, when I tour the country performing my one woman show, sometimes I cry. So often people say to me I thought I got it, I thought I knew but now I understand. Knowing is one thing, understanding is completely different. So I know that the arts can add magic to it and we're seeing that also with the 'Fight HIV Your Way' contest."
Candace Rose: How has the contest evolved over the years?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: "It's been amazing to see it go from just the photos and the essays to now involving dance. There's a brand new piece called 'Home' that's choreographed by the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater company and they're going to be dancing across the stage with the Transformational Art of Dance on the stage of City Center tonight (taped) it will make its debut and when I see all of that come full force- the music, the dance, the word, you know the photographs; it's like WOW, we've come a long way baby."
"A Tribute to Alvin Ailey on World AIDS Day: Antonio Douthit and Alicia Graf Mack of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in the premiere of 'Home,' by Rennie Harris, at City Center." Image courtesy of NYTimes.com
Candace Rose: Where can people go to learn more about the contest?
Sheryl Lee Ralph: "To learn more about the contest please visit FightHIVYourWay.com. Go there, upload your photos, tell your stories, shed the light on you and help erase the stigma. We need you to fight HIV your way."