Sarah Culberson was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, to an African father and a White mother. She was put into foster care. A year after her first birthday, she was adopted by a White West Virginia couple. Growing up, Culberson did not know much about her ancestry and she had to deal with so many questions about her biracial roots.
Along the way, she got drawn to theater and won an undergrad acting scholarship to West Virginia University. She earned her MFA at The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco before joining the Los Angeles acting community, her website says. Culberson, now a dancer and an actress, has been on various stages and in films and has even guest performed with the Urban Latin Dance Theater Company CONTRA-TIEMPO.
But in 2004, a 28-year-old Culberson decided to put her dance and acting on hold to enable her to locate her biological parents. Through her search, she found out that she is related to African royalty in Sierra Leone. Culberson discovered she is from the Mende ethnic group in the small town known of Bumpe, Sierra Leone, and that she is a Mahaloi, the granddaughter of a paramount chief. This makes her the princess of the Bumpe village.
In 2004 when she first visited Bumpe, Sierra Leone to discover her roots, the West African country had just emerged from a brutal 11-year civil war that wreaked havoc and ended in 2002. The war had claimed lives, burned homes, left many with missing limbs, and ruined the economy. Culberson, arriving in Bumpe, and witnessing the challenges of her people, knew that her title did not mean an inheritance of wealth. Rather, it came with a huge responsibility.
“My only guidance of what a princess was was what I saw in movies,” Culberson told NBC News. “[But] it’s really about responsibility. It’s about walking in my great-grandfather and grandfather’s footsteps and what they’ve done for the country. I realized that’s my role as a princess, to keep moving things forward in the country.”
Thus, in 2006 after the Bumpe community celebrated her during a special ceremony with her adoptive parents, she and her biological brother, Hindo Kposowa, launched the nonprofit, the Kposowa Foundation, now called Sierra Leone Rising, to rebuild Bumpe High School and promote education in the country.
The foundation has so far provided nine wells for some 12,000 people across Sierra Leone, and is also looking to provide reusable pads for women, NBC News reported. What’s more, when the coronavirus struck, Culberson and Kposowa launched the “Mask On Africa” campaign to help reduce the spread of the virus in Sierra Leone.
Culberson’s passion to support people is not surprising though, according to her White family in West Virginia. “Sarah was an outgoing, people-meeting, 1-year-old when we adopted her. She is still that same outgoing person who genuinely loves and enjoys almost everyone she meets,” her adoptive father, James Culberson, said.
Actor and dancer Culberson, to date, works with her birth father and brother through the foundation to bring support to the people of Bumpe. Also a published author, she wrote about her journey in the book A Princess Found, which will serve as the basis of a new movie produced by Stephanie Allain.
Culberson also has over 10 years of experience creating diversity, inclusion, and equity programs for both corporate and educational groups. Currently living in the U.S., she visits Sierra Leone often and plans of moving to the West African country soon. She, however, has no plans of going back to acting and dancing soon, as her role as a princess has changed her perspective on her life’s path. “And it’s changed it for the better,” she said.