Christmas 2006 brought the world the award-winning musical film, “Dreamgirls.” Although fans raved about the stellar performances from the cast, the story of that film didn’t begin there. It started in 1981 as a Broadway musical featuring the iconic Sheryl Lee Ralph.
Ralph brought original life to the character Deena Jones in the play and has been leaving marks on the industry ever since. Modern audiences may remember her as the educator and step-mom from the 1990s’ sitcom “Moesha.” As often displayed in memes and gifs, the culture also remembers her as the strict mother to Lauryn Hill’s character in “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.”
Ralph’s multi-decade career is expansive regardless of what entry point fans and audience members find her. Currently, she portrays Barbara Howard in ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” having earned a 2022 Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series.
Throughout the years, Ralph has proven to be a powerhouse on and off the screen. She is the founder of the nonprofit organization DIVA Foundation, focusing on raising awareness and advancing the work for HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.
Multiple decades of work committed to the entertainment industry and philanthropy have earned Sheryl Lee Ralph an estimated net worth of $5 million. However, building that fortune did not come without learning some lessons along the way.
According to a previous AFROTECH report, Ralph sold the rights to her part in the “Dreamgirls” play for nearly nothing.
“‘Dreamgirls’ — we sold our rights away for a dollar,” Ralph explained to AFROTECH at the time. “So all of the history and all of the wonderful stuff you see going around with the world with the show, we get nothing. That’s my No. 1 mistake.”
This moment in time, however, made the 67-year-old stronger, and it’s a lesson she spreads boldly across the industry.
“You know when you renegotiate your contracts and things, and you realize that people wanna lowball you like you’re not doing the work that you’re doing, like you’re not bringing something that has never been brought before,” Ralph told AFROTECH.
Not only does she use her experience to advocate for those coming behind her in the industry, but it is also sage wisdom for her two children to forge their own paths in and around Hollywood.
According to PEOPLE, Ralph is quite proud that her children are not leaning into the nepotism that can often exist in Hollywood.
“They’re not looking at me to help them do this or that. They’re not using nepotism,” Ralph stated. “They’re not coming to me saying, ‘Can you call this? Can you do that?’ They’re doing it themselves, and I just respect them so much for that.”
Etienne, 32, is Ralph’s oldest child and only son. He is the founder and CEO of WalkGood Productions, producing independent films and television shows from diverse creators, according to his LinkedIn profile.
His recent efforts have been in his philanthropic endeavor, WalkGood LA. It is a family-led organization based in Los Angeles, CA, that serves as a vibrant wellness community of “people from all walks of life” united by a shared commitment to community healing and racial equity, per its website.
The organization hosts many wellness and self-care events in and outside the LA community. WalkGood LA continues to expand its reach with partnerships from brands like Propel Water and On running company.
Ivy, 29, is Ralph’s youngest child and only daughter. She graduated with honors from Syracuse University in New York, majoring in economics and retail management. She also has journalistic chops, previously writing for publications such as Ebony Magazine. Her LinkedIn page showcases her other experience. Additionally, she serves alongside her brother at WalkGood LA as vice president, according to its website.
However, Ivy is fully tapping into her passion for style and fashion. She is the visionary stylist behind many of her mother’s red carpet and public appearance looks while also lending her styling talents and expertise to the cast of “Abbott Elementary,” per People.