2023 Keynote / Honored Guests

Sheryl Lee Ralph

Emmy Award-Winning Star of ABC’s Abbott Elementary, Singer, Producer, and Activist

From bringing characters to life on screen, performing on Broadway, producing, landing the title of national best-selling author with her literary debut, and her deep rooted philanthropic  endeavors which touch lives across the world, Emmy Award Winner, Tony Award nominee, NAACP Image Award nominee and Independent Spirit Award winner Sheryl Lee Ralph has become a staple in the entertainment industry, with an acclaimed career spanning over three  decades.

Sheryl can currently be seen starring on ABC’s smash hit, comedy series Abbott Elementary opposite Quinta Brunson. In this laugh out loud workplace comedy, Abbott Elementary follows a group of teachers brought together in a Philadelphia public school simply because they love teaching. They rely on one another to make it through the day, and find a  way to counteract the school district’s indifferent attitude toward educating children. Sheryl shines as Barbara, a longtime and respected teacher. Season one of Abbott debuted to critical acclaim and rave reviews; with media calling it “charming and insightful” (The Atlantic),  “the next great network sitcom” (The Hollywood Reporter), “a smart conceit, sharp writing, the  right cast…” (Entertainment Weekly), and “should be everyone’s new comedic obsession”  (IndieWire), to name a few. In summer 2022, the show earned a total of seven Emmy nominations from the Television Academy for its freshman season, including Outstanding Comedy Series, with Sheryl winning Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. She also landed the Hollywood Critics Association Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in a  Broadcast Network or Cable Series, Comedy, for her work on the show.

Additional credits for Sheryl include starring in over 100 episodes of Moesha opposite  Grammy Award-winner Brandy, a lead role opposite Tia Mowry in three seasons of Nickelodeon’s hit series Instant Mom, starring opposite Jon Voight in Ray Donovan for Showtime, and appearances on BarbershopERIt’s a LivingNew AttitudeGeorgeDesigning  WomenTwo Broke GirlsSmashCriminal MindsMacGyverOne Mississippi,  and Claws. Sheryl is currently recurring as President Kelly Wade, on Freeform’s supernatural drama series Motherland.

On the big screen Sheryl has worked with some of Hollywood’s leading and award winning men with credits that include The Mighty Quinn opposite Denzel Washington, Mistress with Robert de Niro, To Sleep with Anger with Danny Glover and The Distinguished Gentlemen with Eddie Murphy. She also appeared opposite Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act II.  Sheryl picked up a win for Best Supporting Actress at the Independent Spirit Awards for her  performance in To Sleep with Anger.

Finding success in writing and directing, Sheryl’s award-winning short film, Secrets, co starring award-winning actress Alfre Woodard and Robin Givens was a finalist in the HBO Film  Short Competition, Showtime’s Filmmaker Award Series, and the BET Filmmaker Award Competition. The film was also selected as the audience favorite at the Outfest Film Festival. Secrets was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, as well as the Hollywood Film Festival, the Acapulco Film Festival and the Urban World Film Festival. Sheryl is also the creator of the Jamerican Film and Music Festival. Most recently, Sheryl completed four back-to-back movies; Just Getting Started opposite Morgan Freeman, Tommy Lee Jones, and Rene Russo,  Christmas at Holly Lodge for Hallmark, Netflix’s Step Sisters with Naturi Naughton produced  by Lena Waithe, and No Sleep Til Christmas for Freeform.

In theater, Sheryl is well known for her award winning work, creating the role of Deena Jones in the legendary Broadway musical Dreamgirls which earned her Best Actress nods for  Tony and Drama Desk Awards. Sheryl most recently appeared on Broadway as Madame  Horrible in Wicked, becoming the first African-American actress to take on the classic role. She  also holds the title of producer on Broadway’s Thoughts of a Colored Man at The John Golden Theatre (October 2021-March 2022), which explores a single day in the pulsing heart of Brooklyn, as seven Black men discover the extraordinary together. Additional Broadway credits include: the Tony Award-winning musical Thoroughly Modern Millie, and reuniting with Loretta Devine and Jennifer Holliday for a sold out, one-night-only, Dreamgirls reunion celebrating the 35th anniversary.

As a writer, Sheryl’s debut book Redefining Diva: Life Lessons from the Original Dreamgirl (Simon & Schuster) instantly became a national best-selling title, and gave readers a  personal look into her triumphs and tribulations over the years, navigating life with courage, wit, and strength.

While working in front of the camera keeps Sheryl busy, she is also a passionate health  advocate and honored AIDS activist. Sheryl is the founding director of the DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed) Foundation 501(C)3 which she created in memory of the many friends she  had lost to HIV/AIDS. She also created the critically acclaimed Divas Simply Singing!, an evening  of song and entertainment that is the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the  country. Sheryl was awarded the first Red Ribbon Award at the UN for her unique use of the arts  in HIV/AIDS activism, and was recently appointed as an AIDS Ambassador for Jamaica’s Ministry  of Health.

Sheryl is a mother of two with a blended family of four, and loves every moment of  motherhood and marriage. She is happily married to State Senator Vincent Hughes of  Pennsylvania.