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Sheryl Lee Ralph Throws Down the Gauntlet
Actress and Long-Time Activist Dares All to Join Her at Lincoln Memorial to Stand Against Those Who "Don't Do a Damn Thing" About HIV Among African Americans

By Olivia Ford

August 4, 2008

On Aug. 4, a panel of African-American HIV community leaders held an emotional press conference in which they expressed frustration and anger about the lack of attention being paid to the HIV epidemic among U.S. blacks. After the press conference, we caught up with Sheryl Lee Ralph, an actress and long-time HIV activist who was one of the speakers at the press conference. (You can also click here to read or hear Ralph's passionate speech during the press conference.)

Sheryl Lee Ralph
Sheryl Lee Ralph
What do you feel people need to understand about the HIV epidemic in the African-American community that they currently don't know?

I think they don't know that sometimes, when people talk about sex and the way they are having it, some people do lie. There are a lot of men who will tell you that they are using condoms. As a minister told me yesterday, a lot of men lie about the sex that they are having.

How do you have the energy to continue HIV activism after all these years?

It has been almost 27 years, talking about this. And in 27 years in talking about this disease -- where I thought it might end up next -- I have been right on target each time. I know I'm the voice that makes people uncomfortable. But guess what? If we don't wake up right now -- as in, yesterday -- we are going to be hit with something that is so major, we are going to shake in our boots. They are going to start digging plots, because that many people will die in advance, and they've got to be ready for those people to be buried. That's if we don't wake up.

So I have to ask people: Are we ready to bury our children in America? Are we ready to bury our children? Like we think about education: We don't care about education. We certainly don't care about our health -- until we don't have it.

So, if you're like me, Saturday, September 27, 10:00 a.m., I'm going to put on my red jacket. I'm going to sit on the steps of the Lincoln Monument [in Washington, D.C.]. And anybody who thinks their health matters, I want you to join me. Do I think anybody's going to show up? Oh, hell, no. But I'm going to sit right there at Lincoln's foot, and I'm going to beg for freedom from the tyranny of people who talk about health, talk a good game, and don't do a damn thing about it.

Your health matters? Meet me at 10:00 on the steps of the Lincoln Monument, Washington, D.C. I'll be sitting there. I'll be waiting for you. Show up. I dare you.

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