Sarah Culberson was born in Morgantown, West Virginia, to an African father and a white mother. As an infant, she was given up to foster care and adopted by a loving white family in West Virginia. She grew up contemplating and dealing with questions about her identity and her biracial roots. She fell in love with theatre in early childhood and later won an acting scholarship to attend West Virginia University. She earned her MFA at The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and joined the Los Angeles acting community.
Culberson has been acting on stage as well as in films and TV. She appeared in shows such as Strong Medicine, All of Us, Boston Legal, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, and the film American Dreamz. She also guest dances with professional Urban Latin Dance Theater company Contra-Tiempo. However, her biggest role so far came when she decided to locate her biological parents. After learning that her biological mother had died when she was just 11, she found out that her father lived in a village in Sierra Leone, West Africa. She learned that she was from a royal family, a Mahaloi, the granddaughter of a Paramount Chief, with the status of a princess. She also learned of the difficulties and privations of the people in Sierra Leone resulting from a brutal 11-year civil war that ended in 2002. The discovery of her unique heritage and her response to this new information changed her life forever. Now, as co-founder and president of The Kposowa Foundation in Los Angeles, she and many others work to improve education for young people, bring clean drinking water to the community, and provide sustainable opportunities for the people of Sierra Leone. Culberson's story has been featured nationally and internationally in The Singapore News, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, BBC radio, NPR, "Oprah and Friends" radio show, and in magazines such as Reader's Digest, Newsweek, People, and Glamour. She has also appeared on Good Morning America, CNN, Inside Edition, and more. Culberson's book, A Princess Found, co-written with Tracy Trivas and published by St. Martin's Press, was released in Barnes and Noble and other bookstores in 2009 and is being used at Pepperdine University in an ethnic identity class.
In addition to raising awareness about Sierra Leone, Sarah Culberson is the director of service-learning at the Oakwood School in Los Angeles. She takes groups to Sierra Leone to stay with her family and work together on different service-learning projects. The groups work on projects with the Bumpe community and learn about the people and the culture of Sierra Leone. Culberson speaks nationally and internationally and shares the inspirational quest that led her to her birth father in a war-torn country that is now rebuilding and moving forward.
As she shares her story, Sarah speaks to a wide range of audiences from elementary schools to universities and large speaking venues. She has been a key note speaker for audiences as large as 5,000 and as little as 50.
Venues where Sarah has spoken and the number of attendees
“I thought she was one of the best public
speakers I’ve seen in a long time and the
first thing that came to mind was that she
should speak at our graduation.”
-The Ellis School
“Sarah Culberson is a charismatic, energizing, and engaging speaker, who manages to deliver powerful and serious messages with warmth and humor. To our high school audience, she spoke on topics ranging from adoption, family, and race to genocide and education. Her connection with our students was immediate, and she secured their rapt attention throughout her presentation.”
- Montclair Kimberley Academy
I was fortunate to work with Sarah Culberson for her talk at the USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in February, 2010. Although I knew Sarah had an interesting story and that she was a seasoned speaker, I could not have anticipated how compelling and impactful her presentation would be. The room was completely captivated as she walked us though her personal story of discovery, self identity and transformation. Her speaking style is incredibly engaging and her topic spoke to us in a way that made us take a moment of personal reflection and purpose. I would recommend her for a talk to any group.
-USC Daniel Atwater
“Sarah is AMAZING! She did an awesome job at both events relating both to young girls and to the older donor crowd at night. Everyone loved her and loved hearing about her incredible journey. Sarah is passionate and genuine--just a wonderful person and we loved having her as our guest speaker!”
- Bethany Christian Services
Sarah Culberson at Pepperdine University: “I was moved the first time I heard Sarah Culberson’s story. Her energy is infectious and the way she engages and inspires people is nothing short of amazing!”
-Karen Driscoll, Alumni of Pepperdine University
“I should have had a box of Kleenex handy for the parents and teachers who were present. Your story touched us all in so many different ways.”
- Campbell Hall Elementary School
“Sarah Culberson is a charismatic, energizing and engaging speaker who manages to deliver powerful and serious messages with warmth and humor. To our high school audience, she spoke on topics ranging from adoption, family and race to genocide and education. Her connection with our students was immediate, and she secured their rapt attention throughout her presentation. Montclair Kimberley Academy was delighted to host Ms. Culberson and deeply appreciative of the lessons she taught us.”
-Debbie Kozak, Director of Communications & Marketing, Montclair Kimberley Academy
"I was so thrilled to have a chance to hear Culberson talk and model what it means to be an exciting public speaker. I often try to show my students how important it is to be able to present one's ideas effectively. Sarah Culberson's visit made the ideal a reality -- this is what I tried to explain to them all along. Now, my students know the power of language, the power of presentation, the power of the self."
-Ellen Ferguson, Ph.D., teacher of English, The Montclair Kimberley Academy
SARAH CULBERSON at The Ellis School: The entire Ellis School community greatly appreciated Sarah Culberson’s visit on February 14th. She showed an amazing talent at connecting easily with parents during a book signing, with a large audience of students ages 10 to 18 during an assembly, and with faculty and staff in various settings. “She is a true role model” says Madeleine Homayoonfar, diversity coordinator at the Ellis School. “We were touched by her personal story, by her decision to locate her biological parents and learn about her heritage and were inspired by her role as a philanthropist working towards improving education for the young people of Sierra Leone.” She was very well received by the students who continued talking about her throughout the day. One faculty said enthusiastically: “she falls within the range of upper 25% best assembly speakers at Ellis in many years”.
“Sarah Culberson could give a power point presentation while conveying her message at the same time. She was enthralling and enjoyable to listen to.”
-Emily, grade 10
“Sarah Culberson was amazing. Not only was her story interesting but the way she presented it kept everyone engaged. Hearing her whole narrative compelled us even more to support her foundation.”
I had so much fun when Sarah Culberson came! She was so enthusiastic and entertaining. loved learning about it her story, it was so inspiring. She was a great speaker and I am so happy that my class had the chance to talk to her personally. I thought that it was so cool how she took her students to Sierra Leone. I would love to do that!! The story about the war was sad, but necessary and I was truly moved by it all. I am starting to read her book right now and can’t wait to really get into it. It was an amazing experience and I am really glad she came.
–Charlotte, grade 8
Sarah Culberson was really cool. It was very interesting to hear her story and she was very funny. It was amazing to think that she seems like such a normal person but she’s really a princess. It was also cool to find out that she was on The Secret Life of the American Teenager and that she knows some celebrities. It was fun to ask her questions and get to know her better and to get her to autograph her book. Sarah was really funny and interesting.
-Samantha, grade 8
Truthfully, she was one of the coolest, most dynamic people I have met. She was able to tell her story in a way that everyone should understand and enjoy because of her personality (she’s really funny!). I really enjoyed talking to her because it was great to see a woman who was so brave and inspiring. It was also really cool that she was an actor too! I remember the whole English class was super excited when she said she was the doctor in the Secret Life of an American teenager. She was able to get everyone engaged and I hope she comes back.
-Sunho, grade 8
I loved the presentation; I really appreciated the enthusiasm you presented with. I thought it was awesome that we had time to ask questions, it really helped my understanding of the whole Sierra Leone issue. And I think it made everyone want to get involved and donate money to this great cause.
I love your hair and thanks for the hug!
-Kevelis, grade 8
"Sarah's visit and lecture were truly energetic, fascinating, and inspirational. Hearing about her endeavors in Africa really opened my eyes and made me want to travel there. I also loved hearing about the identity crises she dealt while growing up as a biracial child. This made me have a larger understanding for myself and the challenges I experience. This also made me understand that what's important is discovering and embracing what's within."
-Chantal,grade 10, The Montclair Kimberley Academy
I loved how ms culberson was so lively during her assembly. I was really interested in what she was going to say next. She made me feel like I was actually experiencing her real life story. It was my favorite assembly! - Olivia R., grade 8 I really enjoyed her presentation because she was into it and she interacted with us a lot. I liked how she had all the pictures that lined up with the story. And I really liked how we got to talk to her after because we got to ask more in depth questions about her life and her book. And I loved getting the signed book and I’m reading it right now with my parents. She got me excited to do more service work around the globe.
-Kate, grade 8
She was very well spoken. I loved the way she talked with enthusiasm. She knew what she was doing and it was obvious she loved telling her story. It was pretty cool to meet a princess too. She could be a good idol.-Clarisa, grade 8 I loved her!!! She was really nice and it was cool to meet a real life princess. Thanks for the hug!!! i can't wait to finish your book
-Alexis, grade 8
I really enjoyed having Miss Sara come to Ellis, I think her story was very interesting/intriguing! She was funny and I really enjoyed when she acted out the phone call that she got from her family. She was down to Earth and she had a good sense of humor! She was very nice and made it easy to pay attention. I think that she was one of the best assembly we had this year!
-Danika, grade 8
I LOVED MS. CULBERSON!!! She was really nice, and she was obviously very educated and very nice! I didn’t know too much about the war and after talking to her and hearing her story I was really interested in reading the book and the book is REALLY GOOD!!!
-Christianne, grade 8
Dear Miss Culberson,
I absolutely loved your visit! I learned some things that I never would have thought about had you not come and talked to us. I liked the fact that you were energetic and passionate about your subject matter and it really made me want to learn more. I was also very glad that my class had the opportunity to have a question and answer session with you. We got to know you a little better by asking questions about Sierra Leone (and your acting experiences!). My friends and i are very excited to be reading your book, and we are eager to find ways to help your organization!
Thank you so much for visiting our school!
-Genell, grade 8 (P.S.- I am still majorly jealous that you have met Alicia Keys- I love her!)
Hi Ms. Sarah! I would just like to say thank you for talking to us and sharing your story! It was very fascinating and interesting to hear it. I am currently reading your book and it is amazing! I enjoy how it goes back in forth between your life and your families life in Sierra Leone. You were very friendly and welcoming! You just seemed very bright and nice and not afraid to hold back. Thank You again. I enjoyed Sarah's visit because I learned about something I knew little about (the civil war in Sierra Leone). I thought Sarah was very nice and answered our questions well. I wish she could come back again!!
-Corby, grade 8
I really liked her presentation. I think she was very fun and energetic which is good because it kept me interested. i think she had a great story. It was very touching. I thought she was really interested and did a good thing for the country. I really enjoyed listening to her and she is an inspiration for many people including myself. I liked how she included baby pictures and family photos. I learned a lot from her presentation.
-Nathalie, grade 8
I thought that she was really nice and thoughtful. She really seemed proud of what she did. She seemed really interesting. I thought that it was good that she showed a few examples of things like the war so everyone could see how bad it really was. She was really fun, though!
-Lauren, grade 8
I thought that Ms. Culberson was awesome!!! She was so funny! I loved how she actually wanted to find out more about her family. She wanted to learn more and I like that. I also learned so much about how Sierra Leone had the war, I didn't know that until now. I definatly liked this assembly more than any other assembly we've had before.
-Elyse, grade 8
She is so cool. I really like the way she presented herself and the slideshow. I liked how she acted out what the different family members said to her. I think that she did a great job.
-Kayla, grade 8
I really liked having her come in and talk to just the 8th grade, and I know they really enjoyed it. Almost all of them bought her back and a few of them have already finished. I have discussed this with both of my classes, and we are tentatively planning on using Sarah’s book for our 3rd term independent reading, and in place of individual projects, the girls are thinking of ways that we can possibly help Sarah and the Kposowa Foundation. We haven’t decided anything formally yet, but I’ll let you know as we progress what the girls decide.
–Ashley, 8th grade English teacher
" I felt Sarah's presentation reminded us of how small our world is and how interrelated we all are. Therefore it is imperative we see each other as brothers and sisters."
-Teacher, St. Mary’s Academy
" I felt Sarah's presentation was very powerful. She made an instant connection with the audience. She promoted the importance of stepping into the uncomfortable and taking risks. She helped to empower our students to make global connections and the benefits that come from it.”
-Teacher, St. Mary’s Academy
"Sarah made it seem like anything in life was possible"
-Student, St. Mary’s Academy
" Sarah was an inspiration to get out into the world and make a difference. Her positive outlook on life added so much to her story"
-Student, St. Mary’s Academy
"Sarah's energy and optimism made her story interesting and kept us interested"
-Student, St. Mary’s Academy