Television fans may recognize her as Moesha’s much-loved step-mom. Film fans have seen her starring alongside the likes of Robert DeNiro, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy and Danny Glover. Broadway aficionados know her as the original — and Tony Award nominated — Deena Jones in Dreamgirls. Those committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS respect her as an impassioned advocate. Listen in on our conversation with Sheryl Lee Ralph; get to know her in her most cherished role: Mother.
Since we’re a mom-focused site, could I start by asking you to share a little bit about your children?
I am the mother of two outstanding children, Coco and Etienne. They are the loves of my life and the lights of my world. They bring me more joy than any woman could ever dream of.
Something about motherhood compels us to rectify what we see as wrongs in our world. You have gone above and beyond — using your unique role as a celebrity performer to make a huge impact in the fight against HIV/AIDS. On Twitter recently you made the comment, "If HIV/AIDS were the Swine Flu, condoms would be sold out just like TamiFlu and face masks!" How do you stay so motivated with such verve in the fight against HIV/AIDS when it seems "new" illnesses get all the press?
When the time comes for my children to experience their sexual awakening, I don’t want it to kill them! I want them to be equipped to make informed, healthy decisions. Swine Flu is easy to talk about. [When it comes to HIV/AIDS,] people don’t want to talk about the sex they are having…the sex they are not having…the sex they fantasize about. The truth is, our sexuality is one of the greatest gifts that God ever gave us. We must face this disease head on, because this disease is certainly taking us head on.
As a child, you spent a tremendous amount of time in Jamaica, and you’ve traveled the world as a performer and activist. What do you feel we mothers here in the US could learn from mothers off our shores? What connects us?
Doing the work I do, I’ve spent a great deal of time in South Africa. There, and in other locations ravaged by AIDS, it always amazes me the incredible lengths to which a mother will go---the sacrifices she will make. She will take her last steps, breathe her last breath, give absolutely everything she has to ensure her children are cared for.
From motherhood, to diva-dom: The word "Diva" gets thrown around a bit recklessly, and often by those far less qualified than present company to define it. As an original Dreamgirl and the founder of The Diva Foundation, how do you define the word?
How do I define "diva?" Divinely Inspired, Victoriously Annointed. That, and Driving Insidious Virus Away.
Your husband Vincent Hughes is a Pennsylvania state senator. You served an active role campaigning for Barack Obama, and are involved in many other political causes. Do you see political futures for your children?
Etienne does love to win office in school elections; and Coco is quite the politician!
Contemplating mothers of ages gone by, are there any that stand out in your mind?
You know, while I’m unsure of how her children turned out, Sojourner Truth made a quote that always impacts me, "Ain’t I a woman now?"
You’re so involved in performing, in politics, in philanthropic causes . . . do you ever relax? If so, how?
Usually I relax with some "girl time" with my daughter. Developmentally, those ages between 12 and 16 are so very important for girls, and spending some more time with our daughters is so valuable. [Coco and I] will go to a spa or get a mani-pedi…we don’t even have to talk, just spend that time relaxing and rejuvenating together.
Do you ever find yourself a victim of "mommy guilt?"
You know I used to, but after my divorce, I realized Mommy absolutely must drop the guilt, and move forward! As women and mothers we’re always so busy doing for others and too often neglect ourselves. Women need to make the effort and put some "self" back into their own lives.
We heard a delicious rumor you’re returning to the stage. Care to share?
For all the mommies reading this, you are NOT going to want to miss The First Wives Club  this August! For the women in loving relationships, the show provides direction on how to stay there. For our sisters amidst divorce, they will be strengthened and encouraged. Everyone in the audience will laugh. They will cry. They will leave feeling empowered! It’s that kind of show.
To date, what is your proudest professional moment?
When I wrote, directed, produced and performed Sometimes I Cry . The response from women around the world was overwhelming.
…And your proudest "Mom" moment?
Giving birth to two healthy children and raising them to be happy adults.
You have such important messages to share. Are there any last words you’d like to get out to MommyTracked readers?
Please talk to your children openly and often. My husband and I began a website, TestTogether.org . If you are in love with someone, please get tested together. Husbands take your wives. Mothers take your daughters. Fathers take your sons. Take responsibility for your own health and wellbeing — and encourage those you love to do the same.
Dreamgirls actress Sheryl Lee Ralph was interviewed by Cheryl Lage: The author of Twinspiration: Real-Life Advice from Pregnancy through the First Year , Cheryl Lage is a freelance writer/editor and a full-time mom. Her twin-centric perspectives have appeared in a wide array of print, web and broadcast media including: MSN.com, TWINS, Pregnancy, AmericanBaby.com, Parents.com, ePregnancy.com, Martha Stewart Living Radio, iVillage.com, People’s Celebrity Baby Blog, Richmond Parents Monthly, and her own web support site for parents of twins, Twinsights.com .
Currently, Cheryl lives with her family in Richmond, Virginia, where she is an elementary school room mother -- times two! Learn more about Cheryl by visiting her blog, Twinfatuation .
Want to read more from some of our favorite multitasking celebrity moms? If you liked this interview with Sheryl Lee Ralph, check out Mommy Tracked's Working Mom interviews with 90210 star Tori Spelling , The Closer's Kyra Sedgwick , and Desperate Housewives actress Marcia Cross .