Jurnee Smollett

Jess Merriweather

Smollett is an award-winning actress and activist of rare talent and conviction. She portrays Jess Merriweather in the critically acclaimed drama series "Friday Night Lights" on NBC.

Smollett can also be seen on CBS' "The Defenders," opposite Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell as Lisa, the new attorney who joins their firm.

Smollett starred in "The Great Debaters" with Forest Whitaker and Denzel Washington, who also directed the drama. In addition to receiving rave reviews, the film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture and Smollett won an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a motion picture. She made her breakthrough performance at the age of 11, starring in "Eve's Bayou" opposite Samuel L. Jackson, for which she won the Broadcast Film Critics Award for Best Youth Performance and was cited by Interview Magazine as "one of the five Hollywood stars to watch in the new millennium." Other film credits include starring in "Roll Bounce," "Gridiron Gang," and "Beautiful Joe" with Sharon Stone as well as made-for-television films including the Wonderful World of Disney's "Selma Lord Selma" and Showtime's "Ruby's Bucket of Blood" opposite Angela Bassett. She recently guest starred in the season finale of "Grey's Anatomy." Other guest starring appearances include roles on "House," "ER," "Strong Medicine," and "NYPD Blue," and she closed out the 2009 series of "Grey's Anatomy" with a performance that received critical acclaim everywhere.

On television, Smollett has starred on the FOX series "Wanda at Large" with Wanda Sykes, and on the CBS sitcom "Cosby" with Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad, for which she won an NAACP Image Awards in 1999 and 2000. She began her television acting career at the age of four with a recurring role on "Full House," later reviving the character for a season of "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper." She followed by starring on the 1994-1995 ABC comedy "On Our Own" with her real-life sister and four brothers.

In addition to acting and singing, Smollett is an activist and the youngest board member of Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA), a non-profit organization working in the U.S. and South Africa to combat HIV/AIDS, advance human 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. In 2006, she became ANSA's pioneer presenter for Positively Speaking, a program of the Los Angeles Unified District HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit that brings people 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, where she has met with Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Tutu, and Zackie Achmat as well as people living with HIV/AIDS and children orphaned by the disease.

She recently completed an official U.S. mission for the U.S. State Department in which she was sent to Botswana, Swaziland, and South Africa to conduct workshops with women and youth about activism, empowerment and HIV/AIDS. She also recently joined the board of the Children's Defense Fund at the invitation of longtime mentor, Marian Wright Edelman.