Sarah Culberson’s real-life role from Hollywood to heroine is no fairy tale.
By Dennis J. Freeman
More than half the people in the Western African country of Sierra Leone are illiterate. Retrieving clean running water is elusive. Diseases like Typhoid fever run rampant, snuffing out lives, young and old. Poverty and concerns of human rights issues grip the nation. For years, education has had to take a back seat to survival in this war-torn providence. Electricity is a scarce resource.
This is where Sarah Culberson feels she belongs. Growing up, Culberson wanted to make a difference in the world. She wanted to do her part in having an impact on other people’s lives. When she attended West Virginia University, Culberson thought she’d do that through acting and the performing arts. A phone call some years ago changed all of that.
News that she was an heir to an African tribe’s throne has permanently altered her life the last few years. Instead of doing Hollywood on a grand scale, Culberson has shifted her focus to tutoring and mentoring young students who are remnants of the Mende Tribe within the Bumpe village where her lineage of royalty is secure.
Culberson shares the journey of her fairly tale story with folks in her book, “A Princess Found.” In an interview with Culberson prior to the publication of “A Princess Found,” Culberson said the discovery of her heritage is a dream come true conclusion to a life-long journey of internal struggle.
“I have a whole another purpose,” Culberson said. “I grew up knowing that I wanted to make a difference in the world, but I didn’t know what that would be. I didn’t know what that would be like. I didn’t know exactly what I’d be doing. Being an actress, I knew I would make a difference by moving people and have people feel their emotions. You can do that in front of a crowd. I love performing.
“But this is whole another level in reaching people. This is a whole new level to make a difference in the world. I couldn’t come back from Sierra Leone and say, ’Oh, boy, I’m a princess in Sierra Leone, and I come from a royal family. Am I to go back to my life and act like I saw nothing? I couldn’t go back and act like nothing had happened. I saw what I saw. I will never be the same anymore. It’s just not these people in Africa who need help. This is my family. This is a part of me.’”
Years ago, Culberson traveled to Sierra Leone to meet the biological father she didn’t know existed until fate and some investigating intervened. Adopted by a white West Virginia couple, Culberson set off on a journey to find Joseph Konia Kposowa, her African father.
She hired a private detective to find Kposowa. After the private investigator located him, a phone call to Culberson soon followed. And the next thing Culberson knew, she was on a plane headed to Sierra Leone to meet her Kposowa for the first time.
“Instead of being angry at my father for leaving, I forgive him,” Culberson said. “But there is really isn’t anything to forgive him for because he didn’t do anything wrong. He did what he thought was best. I was hurt because I was left.”
Co-founder of the Kposowa Foundation, which raises funds for the students attending schools in township, Culberson falls in line behind her father who is a direct descendant of rulership of the Mende Tribe in Bumpe. Culberson’s great uncle, Thomas Kposowa is now the ruler of the tribe.
Her grandfather, Francis Kposowa, got the family’s royalty lineage started when he served as paramount chief in the village of Bumpe, passing down that link to Culberson, making her an African princess. However, being a princess of a tribe is starkly different than something in the world of make believe, said Culberson.
“The only thing about royalty is that I have another level of responsibility,” Culberson said. “I think people here in America get very excited when they say princess. It’s an honor, but it’s not like they’re putting diamonds and pearls on me and I’m living in some big mansion. I’m honored to be a princess. I’m honored to be part of a royal family. I also see what that takes. It’s just not just a title. It’s a responsibility. And it’s no joke.
“For me, sometimes it’s scary because people there, if they get something…they die. There’s a different level of urgency there that I never understood before. We have so much in this country that it’s ridiculous. On all of our worst days, we have so much. Even if someone is homeless and walks into a soup kitchen…they have that. Over there, it’s a different level of survival. Just having basic drinking water is an issue.”