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Interview: Abbott Elementary star Sheryl Lee Ralph on how the legendary Sidney Poitier enriched her life and career

Sheryl Lee Ralph on the cast of
Sheryl Lee Ralph plays kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard on the new ABC sitcom, Abbott Elementary. Pic Credit: ABC/Gilles Mingasson.

Abbott Elementary star Sheryl Lee Ralph is fiercely proud of her thoughtful new ABC sitcom that is shining a spotlight on the heroes of our American education system.

The experienced stage actor, who received a Tony nomination for her role as Deena Jones in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, is also known for her TV roles in It’s a Living, New Attitude, and Moesha.

Ralph has also been involved in nearly 50 feature films, including To Sleep with Anger, for which she won an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Actress. Her other movies include The Mighty Quinn (1989), The Distinguished Gentleman (1992), Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit (1993), and Deterrence (1990).

Now she is playing kindergarten teacher Barbara Howard – one of several dedicated and passionate educators who find themselves thrown together in a Philadelphia public school where, despite the odds stacked against them, they are determined to help their students succeed in life.

Though these incredible public servants may be outnumbered and underfunded, they love what they do — even if they don’t love the school district’s less-than-stellar attitude toward educating children. The aim of Abbott Elementary, created by and starring Quinta Brunson, is to bring viewers joy, laughter, and a lot of heart, and also possibly start a discussion that inspires us to support the teachers in our communities.

Shortly after the death of Sidney Poitier, on January 6, 2022, at age 94, Sheryl Lee Ralph spoke to Monsters & Critics about working with the legendary actor/director/producer early in her career, sharing life lessons and what she loves about her new sitcom, Abbott Elementary.


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