'Abbott Elementary' Star Sheryl Lee Ralph Believes In The Power of Education

Emmy-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph says parents have more influence than they know, and they should use it to educate and guide their children.

Legendary Emmy-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph has played in over a dozen films and television shows but got her first big break when she starred as the original Deena Jones in the Broadway musical, Dreamgirls, in the early 80s. Many of us know Ralph for her role as Dee Mitchell on the television show, Moesha, and Florence Watson in the film, Sister Act 2. With award nominations for the Tony Awards, NAACP Image Awards, and more, Ralph has established herself as a force to be reckoned with for her extensive work lasting more than four decades.

These days, Ralph enjoys being part of the Abbott Elementary cast, as they tell the story of an underfunded Philadelphia school and its dedicated teachers. In an interview with Kindred by Parents, Sheryl Lee Ralph speaks about her role on Abbott, the importance of the TVshow, and the challenges many mothers and American teachers face daily while teaching and raising school-aged children.

The Emmy-winning actress expressed that when Quinta Brunson, the creator, and producer of Abbott Elementary, sent her the script, she read it once and was sold. She appreciated a series on education where teachers weren't the butt of the joke but the heart of the story. Not only has the comedy show become an instant hit, but it has invigorated the broadcast network industry.

Ralph has persevered and, as an actress in the industry, the success of Abbott, created by a brilliant young black woman, means a great deal to her. "It means that I did exactly what I was supposed to do. And I'm still happy. I love what I do," says Ralph. "I love it so much that I would do it for free. I'm glad I don't have to do it for free."

Growing up on Long Island, Ralph experienced difficult teachers but she learned, through them, to stand up for herself. She recalls a science teacher who believed girls should never be seen in pants in the 70s. After writing the school administration, Ralph overturned the policy, and she and the girls at her junior high school were finally able to wear pants in the dead of winter.

The activist and author spoke about the growing number of underfunded schools in America. "When teachers don't get the support they deserve, from anybody—parents included—we miss out on the minds that could help solve hunger issues, food shortages around the world or the possible cure for cancer," says Ralph.

The mom of two talked about the role education played in her home with her children, Ivy-Victoria Maurice (Coco) and Etienne Maurice, now adults. "There's never a choice. It's education, education, education. Everybody's going to college. Everybody's graduating from college. That's what we do," she says.

The Rutgers University graduate said she had to find the proper environments for her children while raising them to be their best selves. She learned early on that the school that was good for her son was not the school that was good for her daughter. The challenge of not having a great school in their neighborhood was another concern. Like Ralph, many families across the country struggle to choose adequate schools for their children.

Ralph advises those parents, "You have far more influence over your children than you believe. Use your influence wisely. Use it well," says Ralph. "Be that parent who figures it out because they're watching you. We have to rise to the occasion for our position. As parents, we are the boss." She emphasized that sometimes parents may have to guide and parent other children, not just the ones they birth. The old-age proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," hits home and reminds us that we must act as a community to provide all children with safe and healthy environments.

Ralph says it's more important now than ever that we prioritize mental health as part of the curriculum for our youth. She says resources are necessary, including counselors to check in frequently on our students. Ralph stresses that Abbott is essential right now because the characters and people caring for the students who have been marginalized, set aside, and not given the tools they need to thrive and survive are real.

She's proud and happy to be playing the role of Barbara Howard, a quintessential teacher who's been active in the community for years. "I am proud to see Barbara Howard, living and breathing on TV and getting her flowers," says Ralph.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles