Courtesy of ABC

It's Time to Give Sheryl Lee Ralph Her Flowers

The 'Abbott Elementary' Star deserves the world

Culture & Entertainment

It's the season one finale of Quinta Brunson's hilarious hit ABC comedy Abbott Elementary. Among all the great things that have come with the show's success, the reminder of legendary actress Sheryl Lee Ralph’s greatness has undoubtedly been one of them.

Despite all the years of work the author and legend of screen and stage has given us, she recently revealed in an interview that just a few years ago, an executive producer on a show she was working on asked her “what have you done?'"

Only in an industry tuned to view whiteness and whiteness alone as excellence, can someone as esteemed as Ms. Ralph be dismissed by people in a place where talents are purportedly the currency for success. Only in Hollywood can she not be flooded with opportunities to show off the vast array of her talents. Let me give an abridged version of Ms. Ralph’s resume for the uneducated:

The world woke up to her gifts nearly four decades ago when the original Broadway cast of the musical Dreamgirls premiered. She originated the role of Deena Jones, the role that Beyoncé herself would go on to play in the 2006 film adaptation. Ralph proved that not only could she sing, dance, and act, but that she could do all those things brilliantly. From Daytime Soaps to primetime comedy and films of every genre, Ms. Ralph has been shining ever since.

I was first introduced to Ms. Ralph through all my incessant viewings of Moesha as a teen. She played Dee, the stepmother to Brandy’s Moesha. Even playing the stuffy-at-times, strict principal and step mom, there was a deft and delicate comedic sensibility to her even as she was often playing it straight.

Much like with her Ms. Barbara Howard — her God fearing, elder statesmen Abbott Elementary character — Ms. Ralph isn’t the one doing the comedic heavy lifting or the one often being given the punchlines, but only she could bring the dignity and indignation quality to Ms. Howard without it being a drag on the rest of the cast. Quinta Brunson, the creator and star of the show, said it herself when Ms. Ralph initially went out for the role of the wacky principal: “No, absolutely not. You are Mrs. Howard. We need a queen and you are her.”

In that same interview, Ms. Ralph said that her and Brunson’s first interactions on the set of A Black Lady Sketch Show often involved Brunson just admiring and studying her. “Oh, this is wonderful. This young artist thinks I'm something special,” Ms. Ralph remarked. Brunson isn’t the only one!

So to Ms. Ralph directly: To call you a star would be too puny when your talent alone can fill an entire galaxy. You are the epitome of style and grace. You’ve filled my girlhood with precious memories from your time as Moesha’s stepmama to your role as Lauryn Hill’s tough but fair mama in Sister Act 2. (We're still singing our "shoulda, coulda, wouldas" thanks to you!) Your presence and voice on-screen are a balm. If I could bring you an entire garden of flowers to share as a token of my appreciation of you I would, but for now, these words will simply have to suffice. You are excellence personified.

The emergence of a week-long tension headache told me that I needed to figure out a way to minimize and relieve my stress. In addition to daily magnesium supplements and meditation, I also found myself wanting to orgasm (the health benefits are hard to ignore) and do so at least every other day.

I was determined to set the mood and engage in some erotic self-focus by way of masturbation, and I wanted to do so with a little more variety than my wand vibrator provides. My commitment to almost daily masturbation was affirmed even further with the arrival of what would become my new favorite sex toy, the viral Lovers’ Thump & Thrust Dual Vibrator.

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If there is one artist who has had a very successful and eventful year so far it’s Mary J. Blige. The “Queen of Hip-Hop Soul” shut down the 2022 Super Bowl Half-time show along with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and Eminem, she also performed at NBA All-Star weekend and now she is being honored as one of Time's most influential people of 2022.

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These days it seems that we’re all trying to heal from childhood wounds, and though I’m a big advocate for cutting people off – family included – I’ve come to learn how challenging that actually is. But also, it’s not always necessary if you have a parent who is open and committed to doing the healing work along with you, a mother, for example, who is receptive to her truth. But this also means you are receptive to the reality that parents are humans who often take cake crumbs from their parents and so on. It’s not to say that you have to accept piss-poor treatment because they’re human, but if any of us are going to embark upon a healing journey, we must acknowledge even the difficult truths.

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Queen Latifah is saying no to unhealthy and dangerous lifestyles especially when it comes to her career. Since the beginning, the rapper/actress has always been a body-positive role model thanks to the range of characters she has played over the years that shows that size doesn’t matter. In an interview with PEOPLE, The Equalizer star opened up about taking on roles that don't compromise her health.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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