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WEC: Better connections through openness and self-awareness

By Jason Hensel, Journalist | Feb 19, 2024

Princess Sarah Culberson says that assumptions can be a good thing. When they’re acknowledged and examined, they can be powerful tools for personal and communal growth. 

“By recognizing our assumptions, we open the door to understanding our biases and perspectives, which is the first step in expanding our worldview,” Culberson says. “This self-awareness allows us to approach conversations and relationships with more empathy and openness, fostering deeper connections and learning.”

And since we live in a polarized world today, she says it’s crucial to create space where respectful, open dialogue is encouraged. She suggests some important strategies like active listening, where the focus is on understanding rather than responding. She also urges people to find common ground or shared values and to show empathy by sharing personal stories and experiences.

“It’s also important to approach conversations with a mindset of learning rather than convincing,” Culberson says. 

Better together

Culberson is president and co-founder of Sierra Leone Rising and will be a keynote speaker at MPI’s upcoming World Education Congress (WEC) in Louisville, Ky., May 20-22. During her session, “Better Together: How to Build a Culture of Belonging,” attendees will learn how to embrace assumptions to elevate themselves and those around them, navigate with compassion and humanity and learn to be uncomfortable and have challenging conversations. Her focus is on empowering individuals, and she says it will be an engaging and heartwarming session. 

A memorable event, she says, resonates on a personal level with the audience. 

“It combines thought-provoking content with engaging storytelling, interactive elements that involve the audience and practical takeaways that attendees can apply in their own lives,” Culberson says. 

The most memorable events leave attendees feeling inspired, empowered and connected to a larger community, something she hopes attendees will experience during her session.

“In my presentation, you can expect to hear inspiring stories from my own life experiences, along with practical insights on how to create stronger, more inclusive communities,” Culberson says. “We’ll explore how each of us can play a vital role in fostering a culture of belonging, where everyone feels valued and understood. Expect a mix of warmth, wisdom and actionable steps that can be applied in both personal and professional settings. Together, we’ll delve into the importance of connection, empathy and the power of our individual contributions to make a positive impact on those around us.”


Community impact

Culberson’s humanitarian work has left a positive impact on the world. She was born in West Virginia to an African father and white mother and then adopted by a family. After graduating with an MFA from The American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, she moved to Los Angeles where she acted and danced on stage, film and TV.

It was during this time that she decided to locate her genetic parents. That’s when she discovered she was from a royal family. Her genetic father lived in a village in Sierra Leone, West Africa, and he told her she was the granddaughter of a Paramount Chief. She’s a princess. 

Speaking with Sahar Akbarzai from CNN in 2021, Culberson said that finding out she’s a princess gave her “a deeper sense of my identity as being someone who operates and straddles two different worlds and cultures. Learning about my history in Sierra Leone, my family, community, country, that makes a huge part of who I am.”

She also learned about how difficult life had become for people in Sierra Leone after the country’s civil war. Along with Hindo Kposowa, she co-founded Sierra Leone Rising, a nonprofit organization started in 2006 to help rebuild the Bumpe High School after the civil war. Since then, it has expanded its mission to help the wider Bumpe community. For example, the organization started a bicycle program, launched a computer lab and implemented a solar lamp effort. Also, the nonprofit partnered with Rotary International to dig water wells that serve 12,000 people.

“I was like, ‘OK, let’s do this. I’m willing to do the work. Whatever it takes.’ This nonprofit has brought all of us together in such a wonderful way,” Culberson told Char Adams with NBC News in 2020. “My birth father and I have done a lot of work together with the foundation, along with my brother. I stepped out into a space that has been very new for me and has challenged me in many ways.” 

“By acknowledging and exploring my roots, I’ve been able to understand my place in the world better and use my unique perspective, challenges and experiences to empower others.”


Connecting with others 

Fully embracing her own identity and heritage has helped shape who Culberson is today. 

“By acknowledging and exploring my roots, I’ve been able to understand my place in the world better and use my unique perspective, challenges and experiences to empower others,” she says. “This journey of self-discovery has been pivotal in defining my values, my purpose and the way I connect with others.”

Connecting with others is more important than ever since the pandemic began. Studies have shown that loneliness is on the rise and that it can negatively affect people’s physical and mental states. It’s something that Culberson recognizes as a challenge for leaders at companies and organizations.  

“Today’s leaders confront a multitude of challenges,” she says. “Some of these obstacles include the adaptation to technological innovations like artificial intelligence and navigating the complexities of globalization and cultural diversity. However, a critical issue that stands out for many organizations is the emphasis on physical and mental health. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring the well-being of employees has emerged as a paramount concern, calling forth a thoughtful and proactive approach from leadership.”

Princess Sarah Culberson at WEC brought to you by Eagles Talent.

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Jason Hensel, Journalist

Jason Hensel is a freelance writer based in Dallas.