“I want African Americans to know who we are, like where we all come from because it’s been so long and we’ve been disconnected, but it’s really our origin.”
Imagine growing up a biracial child who was adopted by an all White, or dominant class, family from the United States. Picture that this family is the only one you have known for your entire life. And then, one day, you find out that you are West African royalty. It might sound unlikely to happen. However, that is the story of Sarah Culberson – a Princess of Sierra Leone.
Sarah Culberson is from Morgantown, West Virginia. Her biological father was an African man and her biological mother was a white woman. She was placed into foster care as a baby, and later on adopted by Judy and Jim Culberson. The Culberson family is White, and while Sarah is biracial, she is clearly Black, or historically stigmatized. In the popular NowThis video, Sarah describes how she “had always known she was different from her siblings.” More information about her life can be found on her website sarahculberson.com.
According to nbcnews.com, at age 28 Sarah learned her biological mother passed away when she was 11 years old. She also learned that her biological father was living in Sierra Leone.
Sarah wanted to learn more about her father. Therefore, at the suggestion of a friend, she hired a private investigator for $25.00 (insider.com). The investigator soon after found something promising. According to the NowThis video, they were able to locate her father’s family. Taking the investigator’s advice, Sarah sent them a letter. Not expecting a response, imagine her surprise when she got a phone call four days later.
She spoke with her aunt and uncle who were overjoyed to finally hear from her. Her uncle told her “You are part of a royal family… You’re considered a princess in this country.” Sarah was shocked by this news. This led to her finally meeting her biological father, Joseph Konia Kposowa.
“To Culberson, the experience was a wake-up call about what her new identity and responsibility really meant.”
Nbcnews.com states that Sarah is a part of the Mende tribe from Bumpe, Sierra Leone. “She is considered a mahaloi, the child of a paramount chief, which makes her princess of the Bumpe village.” The Mende tribe is mainly located in the south and east of the country. A few months after discovering her family, Sarah was able to visit Sierra Leone for the first time. After arriving, the community threw her a celebration. Therefore, it was clear to her that this was an environment of love and acceptance. The people of Bumpe were happy to have her home.
Sarah learned quickly that being a princess was nothing like movies or tv shows. Therefore, after celebrating and accepting her princess role, she began trying to restore the area and provide hope to the community. Sarah began to work with Sierra Leone Rising which “focused on providing the country with clean drinking water” (nbcnews.com). The article says “the foundation has managed to provide nine wells, serving some 12,000 people across Sierra Leone.” Over time, Sierra Leone has experienced a water crisis and has faced extreme unsafe and polluted water sources.
Donate to Sierra Leone Rising here!
In an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19, Sarah and her biological brother, Hindo Kposowa, launched “Mask on Africa”. This was done with Sierra Leone Rising to bring people across Africa together in wearing masks and fighting against the pandemic.
To learn more about this specific campaign, click here!
Sarah works a lot with her local community in Bumpe and with the Sierra Leone Rising foundation. According to insider.com, this experience made her feel “grounded.” Sarah makes an effort to visit Sierra Leone often to fulfill her royal role of supporting her community. Though she currently resides in the United States, she and her partner have considered becoming full time residents of Sierra Leone. Becoming a full time resident would allow her to fully support her community in person each day. In 2009, Sarah published a book titled “A Princess Found” describing the experience and journey she went through.
Check out her book here!
Stephanie Allain, the first Black woman to be a producer of the Oscars, is working with Disney to produce a film based on Sarah’s book and life.
It has been over a decade since Sarah discovered that she is royalty. Since then, she has worked hard to help her community in Bumpe. She has worked incredibly hard with the Sierra Leone Rising foundation to bring awareness to the issues Sierra Leone faces.
Sarah has said “her status as princess has changed the trajectory of her life forever” (nbcnews.com). Her story is one that is truly inspiring. Princess Sarah Culberson’s work has changed the lives of many over time and will continue to in the future.