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Celebrating Sheryl Lee Ralph’s ‘DIVA 2.0’ Book Launch at the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn

Celebrating Sheryl Lee Ralph’s ‘DIVA 2.0’ Book Launch at the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn

Sheryl Lee Ralph’s DIVA 2.0: 12 Life Lessons From Me for You! is part memoir, part self-help, sprinkled with motivation, encouragement, and downright cheerleading, which left me feeling like I could accomplish anything I put my mind to.

These days, it’s easy to feel discouraged by so many aspects of our culture. But reading DIVA 2.0 made me feel good. Reading this book is like sitting down to tea with your most beloved and glamorous mentor and getting the inspiration you need to take action. At less than 200 pages, DIVA 2.0 is a super quick read that you can devour at your favorite cafe. I can’t remember the last time I went out to a cafe on my own and read such a nourishing book. The author’s note redefines the word “diva” as an acronym. “More than big hair and an attitude, DIVA is an acronym for Divinely Inspired Victoriously Alive/Aware/Awesome and if it were Sunday, Anointed!” 

Ralph shares the story of her upbringing in a middle-class home in Hempstead, Long Island, with a Jamaican immigrant mother and a Black American father. It’s lovely to hear her talk about what it’s like being in a Black cross-cultural home. Ralph candidly talks about the challenges her mother faced from Black Americans, who at the time shunned and ridiculed Black immigrants from the West Indies. Through determination, grit, and finding love and marrying a Black doctor she met working at Harlem Hospital, her mother created a strong foundation on which to raise little Sheryl with the resources to nurture her. At 16, Ralph became the youngest student at Rutgers University, in the first class that allowed women as students. It was at Rutgers where she was able to develop her craft and become a working actor.

Saturday, March 18, 2023, was a cold sunny day in New York City, but the 120-seat Billie Holiday Theatre was packed full of beautiful Black women who came out to support actor Sheryl Lee Ralph. The theater is celebrating its 50-year anniversary this year and is located in the iconic Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. The Billie Holiday Theatre is one of the last surviving Black theaters formed during the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1970s. The nonprofit theater opened in May 1972, and several iconic actors, like Samuel L. Jackson and Debbie Allen, have graced its stage. It was the perfect venue in which to experience the pure majesty of the Emmy- and Tony-award winning Ralph. Not only did BGN have the privilege of attending the sold-out book launch event, but we had the opportunity to chat with the actor backstage between events. 

Even in a simple pink blazer and black pants, Ralph was the embodiment of glamor. Her bright smile, legendary dimples, and radiant energy lit up the stage. In the 50-minute interview on stage, Ralph wove bits of wisdom from DIVA 2.0 through anecdotes from her long career. 

She also told the story of how, as she was getting ready for the 2022 Emmys, everything that could possibly go wrong did, from a dress issue to the person who did her nails not having her kit with her, yet everything fell into place beautifully. She ended up with the perfect gown and ensemble to meet the life-changing moment when she was named best supporting female actor in a comedy series. The crowd roared as Ralph took on the persona and voice of her Jamaican mother, who said to her, “You can be a doctor or a lawyer or you can marry one!” 

And she told behind-the-scenes stories about Abbott Elementary with love and adoration for her castmates and the entire creative team. The book launch event was an incredible experience that left us all just beaming. That’s the impact of positivity and good vibrations that Sheryl Lee Ralph leaves on you.

I waited for the actor backstage and had just 10 minutes to ask her two questions. Ralph is an actor I’ve admired since I was a teenager. In 1985, she was in this TV show I loved, Code Name: Foxfire, a spy series where three strong women kicked ass, and I just adored her and that show. But I contained myself and didn’t ask about that show from the 1980s and stayed focused on the present. I heard her directing the staff, moving them along through some photos to keep everyone on schedule, and there she was sitting right with me in the flesh, just beaming. I didn’t have much time, so I dove right in.

First, so much of an actor’s life is beyond your control. Talk to me about how faith and intuition have guided your inner diva throughout your career.

Faith is like a mustard seed. People don’t even know how tiny a mustard seed is. But you’ve got to have that kind of faith that keeps hope alive, that keeps you in this industry, knowing that you are a creative, that you belong here. 

I also tell people not to rely on just one talent. If you sing, then you need to act. If you act, then you need to dance. If you dance, then you need to move, and if you’re any of those things, you need to write, you need to develop, and you need to use your voice. There’s so many parts about being an actor and surviving and thriving in this industry that have to be discovered. Sometimes you need to step in front of the camera and move behind the camera, but you have to be open to finding your space in an industry that is full of no’s and full of rejection. Sometimes if you get a thousand no’s, you know that, doggone, yes is coming soon, and you’ve got to hang on for it. Hang on and believe that it’s coming. People talk about, “You and this ‘believe.’” I’m like, “Did you believe in Santa Claus? Yeah, you did. Did you believe in the tooth fairy? Did you believe in the Easter Bunny? Yeah, you did. So you’re gonna tell me you got a problem with believing in yourself? Come on now? Come on.” 

When I interviewed you back in 2021, you said, “Remember, diva, … go where you’re celebrated; don’t stay where you are tolerated. Remember, diva, … choose joy because the burden we have been carrying has been heavy.” How has choosing joy factored into nourishing your resilience in the entertainment industry?

No matter what, I’m happy; no matter what, I’m thankful — no matter what, grateful through good and bad times. I know that there’s something to be so thankful for. I’m happy to be alive, and I choose joy. I choose happiness. I choose me.

Sheryl Lee Ralph’s DIVA 2.0:12 Life Lessons From Me for You! is available wherever you buy books.

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