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Sheryl Lee Ralph: HIV/AIDS Activist on a Mission for a Cure

Sheryl Lee Ralph

Sheryl Lee Ralph

By Angela M. Coggs

Most people do not know that December 1, 2016 will mark the 31st annual World Aids Day. Over thirty years ago, a mysterious illness invaded the country. Doctors could not find anything to prescribe for the mystery illness because nobody knew exactly what it was. The world soon discovered the silent assassin was called HIV/AIDS. Once given a name, people who had contracted the disease were ostracized by many. The disrespect and lack of compassion for those HIV/AIDS patients inspired some people to help find a cure. One of those people was veteran actress of stage and screen, Sheryl Lee Ralph.

Just as AIDS commenced to devastate the United States in 1981, Sheryl Lee Ralph starred in the original production of the Broadway smash hit musical, “Dreamgirls.” That time in her life would be formative, and it would turn Ralph into one of the world’s preeminent AIDS activists.

An HIV/AIDS activist for over 25 years, Ralph has been in the forefront of why it is important to know ones status. Her activism began while she was performing on Broadway. “I witnessed so many people who were sick be treated horribly and with distain. People were hurtful to those who needed help,” said Ralph. She has memories of the friends she lost during that time. People talk about the success of “Dreamgirls” but you never hear how “we lost one third of our company to AIDS. It was devastating.”

Although HIV/AIDS has not been a current topic in the news anymore, the recent status report last year about actor Charlie Sheen recently diagnosed with HIV has brought HIV/Aids back to the forefront of a national conversation. Though Sheen’s recent status may be the reason why people are talking about HIV/AIDS again, Ralph doesn’t mind at all.

“As long as information regarding HIV/AIDS is being talked about openly means that people are once again aware and engaged.”

The loss of friends and witnessing the mistreatment of those afflicted inspired Ralph to get involved and be a voice for those who could not fight for themselves. That experience is what was to become the beginning of the DIVA (Driving Infectious Viruses Away) Foundation. With the success of the foundation, the Broadway actress took her activism to the next level by starting the DIVA’s Simply Singing Fundraiser Event.

DIVA’s Simply Singing Fundraiser is the longest consecutively running musical AIDS benefit fundraiser in the county to date. Last year the event was kicked off on August 27, 2015 in Philadelphia at the Del. Over 5,000 people attended the event. “It was wonderful to see all the people come out and be receptive to the message we delivered,” said Ralph. They were open the information and it is needed out there. “The South is a hotspot and no one realizes it.”

The fundraising event continued on October 25, 2015 in Los Angeles. The show will feature performances by some of the most talented DIVAS in entertainment, including Loretta Devine, Jennifer Lewis, A’ngela Winbush, Meli’sa Morgan, Shanice, CeCe Peniston, Jordin Sparks, the Supreme Mary Wilson, and more. The audience of donors packed the Montalban and supported the worthy cause. Not only were they donating to a worthy cause, but they were also treated to a magical night of entertainment and song. The DIVA’s Foundation in conjunction with World AIDS Day utilizes star power to help raise money, awareness and erase stigma associated with patients who have contracted the disease.

Unfortunately, the DIVA’s Simply Singing Fundraiser has been canceled. The star of Broadway’s original Dreamgirls made her debut in this season’s run of Wicked, one of Broadway’s longest running and praised productions, as Madame Morrible on Tuesday. Most notably, Ralph is the first African-American actress to take on the classic role. Regarding her groundbreaking return to Broadway, Ralph stated, “It’s so nice to be in a show that’s living forever.”

Proceeds from past benefit concerts have benefited organizations like Project Angel Food, Caring for Babies with AIDS and the Black AIDS Institute among others.

One hundred percent of the proceeds from “DIVAS Simply Singing!” support The DIVA Foundation’s awareness and prevention programs. The DIVA Foundation is a 501c 3 not for profit organization.

In addition to the DIVA outreach in the United States, Ralph recently visited South Africa and met a group of young women who are the definition of D.I.V.A. However, the dialogue of AIDS is as prevalent as we may think. “I was surprised that although South Africa is a hotspot for AIDS, it is still not talked about. It’s still a quiet secret.” Plans are currently in the works to expand the foundations outreach internationally.

The message that the DIVA Foundation wants to get out on World’s AIDS Day was for everyone to know their HIV status, be aware, and to put themselves first. In conjunction with providing important resources, DIVAS took a step closer to raising awareness by partnering with OraQuick, the 1st in-home rapid HIV test. It is a quick in-home that is easy to use. Understandably, some people do not get tested because they are afraid of needles and having their blood drawn. The OraQuick kit does not use needles but it uses a swab. The person swabs the inside of their cheek, places it in the receptacle, and twenty minutes later the person see the results. For those who may need to talk to someone regarding the results they received, OraQuick has a 24 hour technical/phone support counselors are available to answer question and address any concerns.

The counselors available via phone are only the first step. OraQuick and the DIVA Foundation maintain the importance contacting your regular doctor for any follow up as needed. Partnering with the DIVA’s Foundation, OraQuick goal is to provide 10,000 HIV test kits to people in underserved communities.

In 2015, Ralph was announced as the Event Ambassador for the Atlanta AIDS Walk. The invitation was a very welcomed surprise. “I was elated,” exclaimed Ralph. “The committee was aware of my years as a HIV/AIDS activist and they called me. I was honored to be chosen.” The 25th annual AIDS Walk Atlanta & 5K Run took place on Sunday; October 18th, 2015 raised more than $950,000.

Sheryl Lee Ralph is a force to be reckon with on the stage, film, television, and, most importantly, in the community. She is passionate about her work and she dedicated to spreading awareness to this, still, devastating virus. She pledges to work toward prevention until a cure can be found. Congratulations are surely in order for Sheryl Lee Ralph!

Entrepreneurship – Recipe for Wealth Distribution

Kenton Clarke

Kenton Clarke

By Kenton Clarke, founder CCA, DiversityBusiness, National Supplier Registration, Omnikal and Together We Are.

Our country, the greatest country on the planet, was created, nourished and developed from a spirit of freedom to build and maintain businesses. Professions, developed during the birth of America such as the farmer, miller, blacksmith and trader created the foundation of the economy across America. The deeply rooted belief of ‘opportunity’ in our country for men/women to develop and sustain businesses created the framework for business people to flourish from the onset of our republic. Capitalism and entrepreneurship are what makes America great and continues to create the opportunity to allow anything (from a one-person business to a global conglomerate) to operate and enjoy the benefits and rewards of risk taking.

While the distribution of significant wealth in the United States continues to hover (around 1% of the population possessing 40% of the wealth), the only way for anyone to get a bigger piece of the pie is to create their own recipe and bake their own pie.

Now before I talk about the journey of getting to the pie, I want to clear up some misconceptions about the 1%. Often, the 1% are generally ridiculed as being “unfair” for possessing that large proportion of wealth. No one will ever give credit to the millions of jobs and opportunities created by the 1% nor understand the real distribution of income and wealth.

When someone points to a lady driving her Lexus and says, “Gee, the cost of that car could have fed a lot of people”; they have no idea of the circular economic impact that has resulted from that purchase. From the jobs created as a result of building that car (from the materials used, the production, marketing, to the distribution and sales channels). The taxes paid (support the functioning of both local and federal government) and so forth. It’s huge and the supply chain impacts are wide and deep (circular economy) and most importantly…sustainable.

As you can see, there are many opportunities from the “piece of the pie” that are generated from the 1%. It is up to the the 99% to capitalize on these opportunities by “baking their own pies.”

With more “pies,” we will see the distribution of wealth continue to flow succinctly. In a land of opportunity and freedom, it is up to us as individuals to hone in on our gifts and passions and pursue them. So how can we encourage the message of entrepreneurship and wealth creation to the 99% throughout our communities and nation?

It is our strong belief that building communities and creating wealth are highly possible and should be encouraged by government, education and other business people. Through community programs, support systems, promotions and mentorship, each of these aspects can play a tremendous role in drawing out the talents that are at the very heart and foundation of entrepreneurship. “Together We Are” the strongest force to create economic opportunity for all people by encouraging entrepreneurship.

We see landscaping companies are launched by a love of the outdoors, and a cleaning business is created allowing a mom flexibility and income. It is these examples of homegrown entrepreneurship that need our support. Each and every job in America provides the opportunity to learn a skill, a business model and to understand a market. The purchase of a paint brush and ladder combined with a little sweat equity can create a foundation of wealth for a hardworking early entrepreneur. No one said it’s going to be easy.

It is our belief that everyone, no matter what your profession, can create his or her own chance to move the needle of wealth distribution. You can’t legislate wealth or tax someone into becoming poor. It’s time we celebrate success in America and encourage our business leaders to keep moving forward. As the simple model of revenue illustrates, the top 1% of our wealth population would have more if everyone else had more.

Access to capital and the never ending excuse of the lack there of is a long standing tired excuse and can be misleading. Success in business is not something that should be handicapped by receiving startup or operational funding. A true entrepreneur will bootstrap him or herself into financial success by growing as revenues and profits allow. Too many ‘would-be’ business owners have been influenced by the venture capitalists and all the hype. The facts are that capital funding has always been an insignificant driver to business startups and growth. You have to build your business one step at a time and be willing to invest your own money the old fashioned way.

Risk remains the dominant reason so few people execute their dreams. Many great ideas never materialize for the simple reason of not marching forward. You have to get off the line and enter the field to perform your dream. Having a kick ass fanfare always sets the stage and creates expectations for what’s to come. If your product or service can resonate with your audience and eventual marketplace, you simply need to execute with skills, planning and passion. With those three components of skill, a plan and your own passion, you will know when it’s time to move forward and step onto the field.

 Just as a musician knows, it’s not how high a note you can hit but rather your ability to sustain the note with clarity, pitch and power. In the same vein, a successful business owner must be in tune with their product, employees and customers. Entrepreneurship is an art that takes one on a journey. It should never be confused with making a quick fortune on a great idea or product. It has everything to do with creating something for a marketplace that may or may not exist, having a clear vision of your “why” and the ability to remain relevant and profitable.

Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and that’s okay. The resilience and ability to sustain your business through tough periods is no joke and not for the light hearted. Being responsible for all the pieces, moving parts and most importantly many people’s livelihood requires superhero characteristics most of the time. So my hat is off to Ford, Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Steward, Castillo, Reddy and an endless list of kick ass entrepreneurs.

Fundamentally at Omnikal, our entire program is designed to win the show. Each and every aspect of our philosophy on entrepreneurship is included and crafted into our digital process. Omnikal technology solutions allow a business owner to connect, research, source, and network to develop the connections to take your company to the next level.

Never loose sight of the fact that a company like Amazon was only able to build an amazing business because of the platforms and infrastructure that others built. With a transportation system, credit card processing and many other processes in place they were able to create their solutions on top of these systems. Omnikal provides a system to entrepreneurs to build their businesses on in the 21st century.

A business plan will never make anyone an entrepreneur. Creativity and innovative ideas will not either. Resiliency and a deep passion to win are the key ingredients …………….. Blood, Sweat and Tears are a given!

At Omnikal our plan is simple: We believe in America and building wealth for all people and communities through business ownership. We solve the problem of making business connections. We’ve built a platform that makes this simple, easy and affordable for all size of businesses. 

San Bernardino Community Servant Killed

Roxanne Williams has lived in San Bernardino for several years. In that time, she has made many friends and allies who have become advocates for the struggling city that four decades ago was bestowed with the All-America City award.

One of the most vocal and visible supporters of San Bernardino was John Henry Griffin.

“He loved his city and especially his neighborhood, Delmann Heights,” said Williams, a Parks, Recreation and Community Services commissioner, of Griffin and his friend and fellow San Bernardino supporter, Tyrone Jones.

Griffin’s passion for his city and neighborhood prompted San Bernardino City Councilwoman Bessine L. Richard to appoint the 69-year-old as a parks commissioner overlooking the city’s Sixth Ward, his beloved Delmann Heights and the Westside.

Griffin had a lot of plans for the area, especially Delmann Park, but on Nov. 9, Griffin was killed in his home in the 1800 block of Darby Street. Reports indicate he was shot in the back of the head.

“I read about the death in The San Bernardino Sun, about the murder and death of my friend, and I yelled, ‘Oh my God, they killed John Griffin!’ ” said Williams, pausing when her voiced cracked over the pain of losing not only a fellow commissioner but a friend.

“All these murders in San Bernardino, we have to stop this,” Williams said. “It’s outrageous and discouraging to me that someone so respected in the community who had a relationship with the police, with the community, with everyone, could die in this way.”

Griffin, a father and grandfather, was so committed to the city, he would reach into his own pocket to keep the Delmann Heights Community Center open if there were not enough city funds.

“He was instrumental in keeping that community center open because he wanted a safe place for the children,” Richard said. “Everything he did was for the young people. So the young people could be safe. This was a great, great loss to the community. Especially the Westside. He was someone who protected it.”

A former Black Panther Party associate and someone who was interested in civil rights issues through the 1960s, Griffin rallied residents of the Westside to stand up for their communities and to work with the police to create better lives for themselves and especially the next generation, Williams said.

“I knew John and interacted with him frequently,” said San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan. “He was well-known in the community and had a passion for his neighborhood. I know a lot of people are hurting because of his death. My thoughts and prayers are with them.”

Although San Bernardino police investigators made an arrest in his slaying, many questions linger, especially why.

“Did they know who he was to this community?” asked Richard. “This is a devastating loss.”

GRIFFIN AND JONES AS WESTSIDE PROTECTORS

For decades, the Westside had two staunch defenders in longtime friends Jones and Griffin.

The men, who had known each other since the late 1960s — and at one point had been affiliated with the Black Panther Party in the early 1970s — founded the Westside Nubians, a grassroots kind of neighborhood watch that helped steer children away from a life of gangs and drugs. The group attempted to calm violence as well as tension between residents and law enforcement.

“They were on the front lines of our community,” said former Councilman Rikke Van Johnson. “They were trying to do all they could to keep harm away from the community. (Griffin) and his friend, Tyrone, were caretakers of the community.”

Johnson remembers Griffin at various city meetings asking for funding for the community center and park. He also recalled how Griffin and Jones both rallied residents to participate in cleanups and neighborhood improvements.

Griffin, carrying on the legacy and wishes of his friend, continued with the Westside Nubians, attending City Council meetings and fighting for his Westside neighbors.

His candor and passion caught the eye of Richard, who earlier this year appointed Griffin to the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department.

“He said, ‘Girl, I’m ready,’ ” recalled Richard. “He knew the residents, they needed the park, they needed a place to go and a safe haven. Being on the board was a way he could see that the Delmann Heights Community Center stayed open and remained a safe haven for the kids in his neighborhood.”

The loss of Griffin has left a vacuum in the community that Williams feels will be hard to fill.

“But we need to keep their vision going,” she said. “We can’t go back.”

The funeral for Griffin is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 29 at Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 1583 W. Union St.