By: Kelly Rouba
Reality show star and former radio broadcaster, Wendell James may be known for having a personality that is larger than life, but what the public may not know is that he also has a heart of gold when it comes to supporting charitable work.
From the Disabled American Veterans to Project Angel Food to the Human Rights Campaign, James has given countless hours of his time to various charities over the years and he enjoys every minute of it. “I’ve been doing (volunteer work) for so long; it’s been over 20 years. It’s sort of second nature. And some of these charities, I’ve (been involved with) for years and years and years,” said James, who became well known as the host of KCAA’s “Talking with Wendell” and interviewed numerous celebrities on the show, from Omarosa to Pat Boone.
While each charity he’s involved with has a special place in his heart, there is one in particular that James is especially fond of and that is the Diva Foundation. Founded in 1990 by actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, who was one of the original Dreamgirls on Broadway, the Diva Foundation is committed to furthering HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.
“(Ralph) sort of started the organization as a memorial for friends that had lost their life to AIDS,” James said, adding, “Sheryl said some of the writers and directors on Broadway were mysteriously getting ill and dying—and back then, nobody knew what it was. No one knew it was called AIDS. As time progressed and they found that it was called AIDS, there was a stigma and (they thought) it was only gay people that got it, so that was the stigma that was attached to it. And that’s what got her attention. So by the time 1990 rolled around, she formed (the) organization.”
James said he admires Ralph because she does much more than just lend her name to the foundation. “She could stand up and teach you a class because she has studied (the disease), so she does more than lend her name and talent. She can give you information, she can give you the specifics, she could tell you what’s going on in Africa as it pertains (to HIV/AIDS), she can tell you about teenagers, she can tell you what it means, and all of that.”
Through the foundation, Ralph also created an annual benefit called DIVAS Simply Singing! For the past 19 years, Ralph and many fellow artists have come together to perform in the show in Los Angeles. According to the foundation’s website, each celebrity sings one song and is accompanied by a pianist.
“All the divas donate their time to it,” James remarked. “They’ve had Patti LaBelle, Natalie Cole, Jennifer Holliday, Loretta Devine, Jenifer Lewis, (and) Barbra Streisand’s sister (Roslyn Kind). Those are just some of the people over the years.”
Aside from donating to the charity, James has also assisted with DIVAS Simply Singing! for the past five years. “As the celebrities come down the red carpet, I’m the one that interviews them all,” James said. “Because I’m an actor as well, I throw the after party. Everyone who was involved in the show and everybody who attended the show—the general public that attended the show—everyone is invited to an after party. It’s a humdinger! And then we give speeches and talk about the show and all of that at the after party and people just mingle. And people get to mingle with the celebrities.”
The next show is slated for October and funds are raised through event ticket sales. “Every year, (Ralph) picks a benefactor organization that does AIDS work for minorities. It could be women, it could be children, they could be homeless, what have you. But every year, they chose a benefactor and sometimes they chose two or three that the proceeds are going to go to,” James explained.
According to James, the Diva Foundation is one of only a few charities that provide funds to help African Americans with HIV/AIDS. “It’s the longest running single African American aids charity going to this day,” he said, noting, “Other organizations, a lot of that money does not filter down to the African American community.”
When James isn’t devoting time to charitable organizations, like the Diva Foundation, he is busy building his entertainment resume. Recently, “I shot two reality TV shows. Who knows what will happen with them,” he said, adding, “My future plan is to have a talk show on TV. I’ve been on radio…(but) I need to be seen and heard, not just heard!”
Wendell just wrapped on a movie called "35 and Ticking" with Meagan Good and Kevin Hart. His also a producer on a documentary titled "Gang Girl" which takes an up close look into the lives of girls in gangs. The film will be in several film festivals. Wendell is also preparing for DIVAS Simply Singing 20th year anniversary in October. He will host the red carpet for the 3rd year and he will also sponsor/host the after party.
For more information on the Diva Foundation, visit www.divassimplysinging.com.