Abbott Elementary star Sheryl Lee Ralph brought down the house during her Emmys acceptance speech in one of the standout moments of Monday’s telecast.
Ralph, who was escorted to the stage by co-star Tyler Jesse Williams, was overcome with emotion as she won the trophy for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. The 65-year-old actress tearfully burst into song, belting out a powerful rendition of Dianne Reeves’s “Endangered Species.” It has been 35 years since a Black woman won in the category.
“To anyone who has ever, ever had a dream and thought your dream wasn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t come true. I am here to tell you that this is what believing looks like. This is what striving looks like. And don’t you ever, ever give up on you,” she declared on stage.
Ralph, who plays teacher Barbara Howard in the ABC mockumentary, proceeded to call out her husband, children and “friends who voted for me” for making her dream come true.
Zendaya and Abbott creator-star Quinta Brunson were among the stars on their feet and gave Ralph a standing ovation after the show-stopping moment. Social media also erupted with praise for Ralph after the rousing speech.
Ralph is only the second Black woman to win the award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. Jackée Harry previously won in 1987 for 227. Harry honored Ralph in a touching message on social media, revealing they both auditioned for the role of Sandra Clark in the NBC comedy series more than three decades ago. Harry called Ralph “one of the nicest people in Hollywood.”
Earlier on Monday, Ralph spoke to People about finally getting the recognition she deserves after working steadily in the industry for decades.
“One day I was shooting a movie with Robert De Niro, the great Robert De Niro, and in between shots he looked at me, and he said ‘You are great. You’re like really DGA, Damn Great Actress,’” Ralph recalled. ”’But Hollywood’s not looking for you, they’re not looking for the Black girls, so you better wave that red flag and let them know you’re there because you deserve to be seen.’”
“Thirty years later, I am seen with my Emmy nomination,” she added. “And thank God I didn’t give up on me because it’s been a rough climb, but it’s worth every step.”