"Positively Speaking" About AIDS
An actress and singer known for delivering heart-felt and energetic performances, Jurnee Smollett's talent continues to evolve with each new project.
Smollett starred in The Great Debaters alongside Forest Whitaker and Denzel Washington, who also directed the drama. Produced by Oprah Winfrey, the film depicts the true story of Melvin B. Tolson (Washington), a professor at Wiley College in the Jim Crow South, who inspired four students to form the school's first debate team, becoming the first African American university to break color barriers and eventually going on to challenge Harvard in the national championship. In addition to receiving rave reviews, the film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture and Smollett was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture. She also guest starred on the two-hour season finale of Grey's Anatomy in May 2008.
On television, Smollett starred on the Comedy Central series Wanda at Large with Wanda Sykes. Other guest starring appearances include roles on House, E.R., and Strong Medicine. She also appeared in the made-for-television films Ruby's Bucket of Blood with Kevin Anderson and Selma Lord Selma, "bringing to life the true-to-life story of Sheyann Webb, an outspoken little girl who befriended Dr. Martin Luther King during the '60s voter rights movement.
In addition to acting and singing, Smollett is the youngest board member of Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), a nonprofit organization working in the US and South Africa to combat HIV/AIDS, advance human rights and equality, safeguard voting rights, and educate and empower children orphaned by AIDS as well as other at-risk youth. Smollett has been involved with ANSA since the age of 11 and in March 2006 became ANSA's pioneer presenter for "Positively Speaking," a program of Los Angeles Unified District HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit that brings people who are infected or affected by the disease into middle and high school classes to tell their own stories and lead discussions. Smollett has traveled to South Africa through her efforts with ANSA and met with Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others.
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