The heat wave in Los Angeles couldn’t get in the way of the church of Sheryl Lee Ralph.
The “Abbott Elementary” actor was met with a standing ovation in Beverly Hills on Sunday at the Creative Coalition’s Television Humanitarian Awards Gala Luncheon, where she was an honoree. Hosted by Variety‘s Marc Malkin, the ceremony was meant to celebrate a number of figures working in the TV industry who also devote their time to worthy social causes. Ralph received the honor, presented to her by “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” star Reid Scott, for her work with DIVA (Divinely Inspired, Victoriously Anointed).
She began her acceptance speech with a powerful rendition of Dianne Reeves’ “Endangered Species: “I am an endangered species / But I sing no victim’s song / I am a woman I am an artist / And I know where my voice belongs.”
“Forty years ago, America stood up and, in no uncertain terms, turned its face to the LGBTQIA+ community and said, ‘We hate you. We will not help you,’” she said. “Why? Because they had AIDS. Because some of them were gay. Forty years ago is time enough for people to forget when you would go to see friends suffering in the hospital, there was no hospital bed for them. You would find them stretched out in a mattress-less gurney, dying for help.”
“I’m not talking to you about what I heard. I’m talking to you about what I saw,” she continued. “When you would sing and dance with your company members one day, and they would be fighting for their life the next. With nobody to act like they were a wonderful child of God, much less a human being. So I created DIVA — Divinely Inspired, Victoriously Aware. Alive. Awesome. And since it’s Sunday, we dare to be: Audacious. Anointed.”
Also unafraid to use his platform was James Cromwell. As noted by his presenter and “Succession” co-star Alan Ruck, Cromwell has been a known activist since the ’70s, when he marched to support wrongly incarcerated Black Panthers or to protest the Vietnam War. It was his work with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for which he received the Television Humanitarian award.
“I don’t mean to put anybody on the spot, but how many vegans are there in the room?” he asked, to which very few raised their hands. “The statistics say that industrial animal agriculture produces more methane gas than the whole transportation sector in the United States. The planet is saying to us, ‘The system is not working.’ So if you love animals, stop eating them. Become a vegan.”
In his intro, Ruck had also noted that it was starring in 1995’s “Babe” that inspired Cromwell’s veganism — which prompted fellow honoree Samantha Hanratty (“Yellowjackets”) to show Cromwell a tattoo of a pig that she got in honor of the movie. Hanratty was being recognized for her work with the MacPac Foundation, which supports research about the rare neurodegenerative disorder HBSL. Her award was presented by Creative Coalition president Tim Daly.
Like Ralph, Colman Domingo also brought the crowd to its feet as he received his award from presenter Tramell Tillman (“Severance”). Domingo, whose role in “Euphoria” won him this year’s Emmy for drama guest actor, took the stage to discuss his involvement with the Legal Defense Fund: “I represent so many Black men. Ordinary Black men. Black people. And Black people are under duress in America every single day. What they need is support, so I wanted to make sure that I put my money where my mouth is.”
Also honored at the event were Melissa Rauch (“The Big Bang Theory”) for pediatric cancer advocacy organization Oscar’s Kids, Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) for United Cerebral Palsy, Paul Scheer (“Black Monday”) for the National Network of Abortion Funds and Jamie Denbo — who was presented the Your Voice Carries Weight award by previous recipient Yvette Nicole Brown (“Community”). Denbo received the award for writing the “Grey’s Anatomy” episode “Living in a House Divided” and its spotlight on obesity. As the organization’s CEO Robin Bronk put it, it’s a major priority of the Creative Coalition to “unveil the shame and blame surrounding obesity.”
“Look out, world, ‘Grey’s’ is going to have a lot to say about reproductive rights this season,” Denbo said in her speech. “And if you take anything from this, please remember: the BMI is a bullshit calculation. You can Google it. Thank you so much.”