When we are all children we can all have our dreams. Little boys dream of being firefighters, cops, cowboys, sports stars you name it. Something risky and full of action. Little girls dream of being treated like royalty, being a princess or a queen. Or, being a mother and playing with dolls acting as a parent at a young age. Typically we imagine these scenarios of us as adults doing the things we imagine ourselves to be.
In one rare case, a young girl who didn’t necessarily dream of being a princess actually uncovered that she was from the royal family in Sierra Leone and was in fact a real life princess being raised in the states by an adopted family. Sarah Culbertson was adopted before she turned a year old and when she was adopted she knew that she was different from the other kids.
When she was first adopted her sisters friend said “is she black or does she have a really good tan” Her sister leaned over and said “She’s part West African and part white American, they said oh, ok.”
When Sarah was in graduate school in her early 20’s she found out that her birth mom had passed away from cancer. She shares that she got to meet this amazing family and began to learn more about her birth mother as well as meet her sister which she found really cool.
Then she realized “What was it like to be an African man with a white woman in the early 70s in west Virginia with an African child?”
Sarah shares, “So the moment I got out of my own way and opened myself up and was like ‘wait a second, what has his life been like? Why don’t I walk in his shoes for a moment. This may sound crazy but this whole yellow brick road opened up so to speak.”
Sarah then hired a private investigator and found her father’s family in Maryland. The investigator advised Sarah to send them a letter.
Sarah wrote a letter and 4 days later she got a phone call. A woman on the other line said “Hello Sarah, this is your auntie Evelyn. How are you?” Sarah froze.
Then Sarah’s uncle got on the phone and said “Oh Sarah, we are so happy you’ve been found.”
“Do you know who you are?”
Her uncle responds: “You are part of a royal family”
“Your great grandfather was a paramount chief.”
“Your grandfather, your uncle runs a chiefdom of 45,000 now 70,000.”
“You can be chief. You’re considered a princess in this country.”
Sarah had to take it all in. It was quite a shock to her being raised as an everyday person here in the states. Her uncle then shared that he would contact her father in Sierra Leone. “He’s going to be so happy to meet your,” her uncle stated.
When Sarah got off the airplane in Sierra Leone she saw her father sitting there, standing there actually. So statuesque. His eyes felt like they were speaking to her in that moment. They took a ferry over and they stayed in a hotel.
Her father gave her a beautiful African dress the next day and asked that she wear it into the village the next day. There were 200 to 300 people to welcome her the next day. All of the women wore the same dress she wore when she entered the village the next day.
They were singing “We’re preparing for Sarah” in her native tongue. She shares that she showed up and it was such a beautiful experience. She showed up and it was enough even though she didn’t win the basketball game or didn’t do anything in particular.
She saw people with missing arms, missing legs and more of what occurred from the blood diamond trade. She realized that it was great to come and meet her family but that this wasn’t the purpose for her trip back to Africa. For Culbertson, the experience was a wake-up call.
She had a new identity and responsibility after visiting Sierra Leone and seeing the implications of blood diamonds. She shares, “I can’t go back to the United States and go ‘Gosh, I hope you guys work this out.’
I realized, this is my family. This isn’t the ‘Blood Diamond’ movie that I can pause and walk away from. This is my family and I have to do something.”
In 2009, Culbertson wrote a book detailing her and her fathers experience entitled ‘A Princess Found’ which can be bought on Amazon here.
The book details her life story as well as her father’s.
She shares that she is currently in talks to turn the story into a Disney movie. She hopes that by continuing to share her story she will give young black kids in the U.S. a deeper understanding of their roots.
“I know all of this didn’t happen for no reason. For people of color and specifically African Americans we don’t often get taught about Africa because people don’t know about the continent. We don’t know about our African Roots. We’re only taught about slavery which tends to make me go ‘Oh gosh, not another slavery movie’ even though it’s an important part of our history, it’s not all of it. I think that what can be great about this movie is that it can actually take us back to knowing that we didn’t all come here as slaves. We were Africans, mothers, fathers, doctors, lawyers, healers – everybody. And then made slaves. There’s this missing piece. I want African Americans to know who we are. It’s been so long and we’re disconnected but it’s really our origin.”
Watch the full story with Sarah’s beautiful recollection of all the details here:
You can learn more about Sarah Culbertson, her speaking engagements and non-profit work with Sierra Leone Rising at Sarahculberson.com