Sheryl Lee Ralph Reflects on Her Hollywood Legacy & History-Making Noms for 'Abbott Elementary' (Exclusive)

The Emmy-nominated actress also reflected on her long-standing Hollywood legacy.

Abbott Elementary's Sheryl Lee Ralph is shining bright like a diamond at the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, and her energy matches the Swarovski glittering over her hair and face.

While walking the red carpet Monday at the annual awards show, Ralph told ET's Kevin Frazier and Nichelle Turner that the night means more to her than being rewarded for her hard work over the last five decades. It's about the actors and industry professionals she's helped mentor in the process.

"It’s not as much about me but it’s being able to stand under these lights between the two of you," the actress stated. "That for me is the real change. That for me was all the choices that I made coming up in the industry, the things I didn't do, the things that I chose to do, and to see it all come to fruition -- not just me being here but seeing you both here in this position the way you are -- that means everything."

Still, the 65-year-old shared that her joy truly came in moments when she's been contacted by actresses sharing how her work has helped their journey in the entertainment industry.

"I take my service seriously, you know, even being vice president of the local Los Angeles SAG-AFTRA," she said. "I take all of that seriously and I want people to get involved in our industry -- don’t just think it’s all about shining in front of the camera, there’s so much work and so many details that take place behind the camera that truly affect how it is to survive or thrive in this industry. And right now, I’m thriving."

Ralph's portrayal as the velvety-voiced, no-nonsense, God-fearing Barbara Howard on ABC's mega-hit TV show earned the actress her first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy alongside her co-star, Janelle James. 

The show scored seven nominations overall, a feat that Ralph hopes to etch permanently in history with successful wins. "We want to collect as many awards as possible and come back over the years and do it all again," she declared.

Ralph previously told ET that she had nothing but gratitude when asked how it feels to be recognized by her peers and fans.

"Ain't God good? Isn't it wonderful to have people talking about you that way, you know, isn't it wonderful that people see your work?" she asked. "I got a call from LaTanya and Samuel L. Jackson, and it was simple, 'We see you, girl. We see you, Mrs. Howard.' And it was so wonderful! I'm thankful and it means a lot, but I have to tell you, I'm shocked by it."

With such a stellar ensemble that includes Brunson, Tyler James Williams, Janelle James, Lisa Ann Walter, and Chris Perfetti, Ralph was under the (very wrong) impression that her Barbara wouldn't stand out among the cast.

The inspiration for the veteran teacher comes from her first role as Barbara Hadley alongside Sidney Poitier in the film A Piece of the Action, Ralph shared.

"Here was this rough girl who came up the rough side of the mountain and had a teacher who just didn't understand her and I connected the dots, saying to myself, 'Here she has grown up to be Barbara Howard, the teacher who understands what her students need because they're all different,'" she explained to ET. "I grew up around all of these Barbara Howards and, for me, it was to just give them life, give them a voice. I didn't think it was going to be anything that anybody was going to pay this kind of attention to. But I'm thankful."

On the other hand, Ralph wasn't surprised by the love for the series itself; she noted that "there's something about the truths we tell every week" that keeps viewers' attention. 

"There's something about a show that raises the platform for educators, the administrators and all the people that help make our education work," she added, pointing out how Abbott Elementary doesn't make teachers the butt of the joke but highlights how they are the heart and soul of the show. 

"We get to talk about things that need attention. Why should teachers have to be raising money to get supplies in their classrooms? Why is it that there are school districts where the books are 10 years old and teachers are having to play catch up? That shouldn't be happening in America. We should be doing more for the 'greatest country's' wonderful children," she said.

"We get to tell some of those truths with Abbott Elementary in a way that is smart, that is funny and is needed right now."  

The 74th Primetime Emmy Awards hosted by Kenan Thompson will broadcast live on NBC and Peacock. In the meantime, check out the full winners list and stay tuned to for complete Emmys coverage.