An Actor's 'Roots,' Phase Two
Isaiah Washington is about to pick up a second passport.
"I am now a citizen of Sierra Leone," the actor-activist announced to us and several dozen other pals in an e-mail this week. He described himself as "completely numb yet elated. I am at a loss for words."
What's the story? Four years ago, Washington -- a Howard University alum and former star of "Grey's Anatomy" -- had DNA tests showing, he said, that he is descended from the Mende and Temne people of Sierra Leone. Ever since, the impoverished African nation has been his cause. He started a foundation and opened a new school in the village of Njala Kendema. He also supported the campaign of the new president, Ernest Koroma -- and earlier this year asked him for citizenship.
"Anyone who knows me -- Sierra Leone is all I talk about," said Washington, 45, who lately rivals Alec Baldwin and Angelina Jolie in terms of celeb-hours logged on Capitol Hill. He has also become something of an evangelist for tracing one's DNA back to the motherland. (His foundation is affiliated with a separate business that provides such tests.) Past movements to connect African Americans with African causes tended to wither, he argues, "because there was no real sense of connection." But the blood connection brings it home: "DNA has memory. ... People can go back and reclaim their language, their heritage, their land."
The second citizenship isn't just symbolic, he said. "It's economic -- now I can own land there. This is the greatest repatriation ever."
Washington told us he got the thumbs-up from the Sierra Leone government this week; he hopes to make a trip in the new year to make his dual citizenship official.
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