NEW ORLEANS — Actress, singer and producer Sheryl Lee Ralph is a triple threat in the entertainment industry but was honored during this weekend’s Essence Festival for something entirely different — her activism. Ralph was honored Sunday as part of McDonald’s 365Black Awards, receiving the program’s advocacy award for her work fighting against HIV and AIDS.

“To be awarded for my activism feels absolutely amazing because I didn’t think anyone cared about the number of people still getting infected and being affected by HIV/AIDS,” Ralph said prior to the luncheon ceremony held at the Ritz Carlton.

“This is work that had to be done and I’m truly thankful that it’s being recognized.”

Ralph was among a group of women receiving recognition for their roles in strengthening African-American communities. CNN political commentator Symone Sanders received the Game Changer award, while Monique Vann-Brown, who owns seven McDonald’s franchises in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, received the Business Trailblazer Award. In addition, Kimberly Bryant, founder and CEO of Black Girls CODE, which introduces young girls to the technology and computer science, received the Catalyst Award and Tishauna M. Wilson, a rising junior and computer science major at Florida A&M University, received the HBCU Forward Award.

Bryant, whose effort to get more girls of color interested in tech is in its seventh year and has reached about 8,000 students, said the award “means a lot to her.”

“We now have chapters in 14 cities and have reached 8,000 students. To get this for being a catalyst in my community is near and dear to my heart,” she said. “I’m all about sparking change and sparking a match under these little black and brown girls who do tech.”

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