Her Royal Highness Princess Karen Chatman isn’t like other members of royal families around the world. She isn’t accompanied by bodyguards nor does she travel with an entourage of people waiting on her hand and foot.
Princess Karen grew up in Natchez, Mississippi, far from the birthplace of her great-great grandfather Prince Abdul-Rahman ibn Ibrahima Sori (Prince Sori). Prince Sori was taken to the United States in the 1700s and sold into slavery, only years later being freed once it was discovered he was a member of the royal family of Futa Jallon and Morocco.
His 40-years of living in Mississippi as a slave led to a lineage that still exists today with Princess Karen and her family. It is an incredible story and Princess Karen has used her family history and royal title (recognized by the United Nations and United States of America) to increase awareness of those in need around the world.
She founded the Princess Karen Chatman’s Foundation of Ancestry and Global Development to provide aid to individuals living in impoverished areas. The organization also works in genetics with the aim of curing once believed incurable diseases. Her work, thanks to her royal title, has saved lives and will save even more in the future.
Princess Karen, you have quite the interesting story and family history. How did you learn about your family’s history and what was it like to discover that your great-great grandfather Prince Abdul-Rahman ibn Ibrahima Sori was such an important figure?
I grew up knowing my family’s lineage and my relationship to Prince Abdul-Rahman ibn Ibrahima Sori (Prince Sori). Natchez, Mississippi, being a town of historical significance, made it easy to validate and trace my relation to Prince Sori. As a child of course, I did not fully understand what Prince Sori’s significance was to my life and how it would impact it in the future. My mother, born and raised in Natchez, was adamant about me knowing and understanding that I was a direct descendent of Prince Sori. From my early childhood, I was told that Prince Sori, was my Great-Great Grandfather who was an African prince from the country of Futa Jallon and of his connection with the royal family of Morocco. It was not until I became an adult, that I fully understood the significance of Prince Sori being born a prince; yet lived his life as a slave, and how his journey would pave the way for who I am today. It is his strength that encourages me to be an advocate for others.
You founded the Princess Karen Chatman’s Foundation of Ancestry and Global Development. Can you explain what the foundation does and how it works with others?
The Princess Karen Chatman Foundation of Ancestry and Global Development, is a non-governmental organization dedicated to working with research institutions worldwide in finding cures for diseases that threaten humanity. The foundation’s focus is on diseases such as cancer, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), and other rare diseases where there are no existing cures. The Foundation also offers outreach programs helping bring clean water, food, and constructing homes in impoverished areas of the world such as in villages in Africa and the Middle East.
Princess Karen has prided herself and the foundation on finding cures to diseases that are believed to be incurable. Throughout the organization’s work, they are trying to find ways of combating health problems found the world over and curing illnesses that have long taken the lives of sufferers.
What initially inspired you to start the Princess Karen Chatman’s Foundation of Ancestry and Global Development?
I am a firm believer that any disease can be cured and that the cure just needs to be discovered. This self-assigned philosophy is what inspired me to engage with research and development organizations specializing in genetics which shared the foundation’s views and were willing to support our overall mission to find cures for many incurable diseases.
What can ancestry testing and DNA testing do for people other than just link them to family around the world or from the past?
DNA links people that are related but DNA, rather Genetic testing, can help scientists decode the information received from genetic testing such as why one family member is more susceptible to a disease like cancer and why another seems to be almost immune. DNA testing can also help people find matches that could save their lives such as in one particular case where a man who asked the foundation for assistance, let’s call him John, to protect his identity, needed a kidney. None of John’s siblings matched him nor his parents. He was tested through our program and was connected to a fourth cousin whom John had no idea he was related to but was an exact match. This cousin donated his kidney to John which saved his life.
Is there a possibility that DNA testing can cure diseases like cancer or even AIDS in the future?
DNA is just a small part of genetic testing but the gene pool itself, offers us a platform in which we can use such data to decode hidden messages. The decoding of these hidden messages are used to unlock information that can and will lead to cures of diseases like cancer.
Princess Karen is also a published author having written the novel Chained Free. It is a controversial look into the life of slavery, something Princess Karen learned a lot about growing up in Mississippi.
Princess Karen, you wrote a book entitled, Chained Free. Can you tell us about the book and the writing process you undertook?
Chained Free, is a book like no other ever written about slavery. It does not focus on slavery itself but embarks on taboo subjects such as adultery, homosexuality, the non-existing voice of white women in those times and forbidden love relationships. Chained Free provides readers with a different prospective of slavery one that allows the reader to live and to see from the eyes of both slave and slave mastery, woman and man.
You were born in one of the most infamous American towns from the days of slavery in the United States. How did growing up in such a town shape your life and view of the world?
Many people have heard the horrific tales of being black and growing up in the deep south. Those stories are frightening to many as they filled the minds of all that heard them with visions of the evils of past relationships of blacks and whites. Many who hear mention of Natchez seemly think of open fields full of black cotton pickers. However, I have had a different life in Natchez.
My childhood was not filled with the evils of the past but were filled with the new era, the new emerging south. I am not sure if I was protected from the Civil Rights Movement that was destined to change Natchez, this infamous slave town, but I personally did not witness that Natchez. My memory of Natchez is one of affection and love. I remember peaceful days on the banks of the Mississippi River and fourth of July barbeques on the Natchez Trace with my family. When I think of Natchez, I think of the strength that she has. The great talents which Natchez has produced like Richard Wright, Prince Sori, my mother Gloria, my father Huey and myself. Natchez was and is a town of people who overcame adversity. Natchez was weakened by poverty, slavery, and war, yet she stood as a phoenix and was strengthened like forged steel. This is the town where I have acquired my strength which is the fire that refuses to be extinguished. This fire provides me the strength to fight for humanity and to find ways to improve the quality of life of all.
Princess Karen and the foundation have worked on a number of projects around the world to improve the lives of others. Projects have ranged from building homes to providing non-repayable grants to small businesses. The work the foundation does is truly helping others that would never receive assistance.
The foundation has a number of wonderful humanitarian projects. Can you tell us about a few of these projects that the foundation is involved with?
I am proud of the many projects that, with our partners, we have been able to provide support to families and communities worldwide. The foundation built 100 homes in Cape Town, South Africa for people who were displaced. The material was donated by oil and gas companies in South Africa and the foundation provided its own independent funding to hire contractors to build the homes that were furnished with water and electricity. In addition, in Manilla, Philippines in 2018, the foundation started a program that enabled mom and pop businesses to take their companies to the next level by providing non-repayable grants to people who showed serious interest and were able to justify their business venture. The foundation provided no-cost business development classes, financial and budgeting classes, and assisted with marketing.
You are always looking for volunteers to be a part of the foundation’s projects. What can volunteers expect to do as a part of a project?
Our volunteers can expect to learn about other cultures, to gain awareness of humanity, and actively participate in the improvement of humanity. Our volunteers are the key to the foundation’s success as the foundation relies on a collective and collaborative approach when providing assistance to others.
It has been said you wear your royal title, Her Royal Highness, Karen Brengettsy-Chatman, to promote awareness of humanitarian efforts. How does the use of your title bring more awareness to the programs you work on?
My title is recognized by the United Nations, the United States, and most countries around the world. My title provides me access to makers of change that can create a difference in changing the world for the better and not from a political standpoint but one of Humanity. I am often invited to speak on issues that are of great concern to many such as how to bring clean water to areas of the world where people are suffering from diseases due to the poor quality of water or droughts. I am invited to sit at the table of solutions, tackling many issues that are of grave concern and impact to all of humanity. My title offers me the opportunity to engage and offer my opinion to change makers, thus assisting the foundation in achieving its objective of positively impacting humanity.
What is a day in your life like?
My day is full of daily adventure, besides being a princess, I am also a mother of three, Elvis, Krysta, and Brenton Konner, and a Wife to my husband Rayshon. My family is my priority and truly are the reasons I am able to maintain such a rigorous schedule. My princess title means absolutely nothing to a son who needs assistance with homework or a husband who cannot find his favorite tie. I have to balance the duties of being a princess, wife, and mother. My husband is my grounder, he fully supports my princess role and understands the demanding responsibilities that comes with it. I have to balance an average life with a royal life. Having royal responsibilities is sort of like living a secret life, as in America where there aren’t any royal titles or roles, active under the American government, can confuse people; especially when they find out I have a royal title. The first question after they are aware of my title is “are you American”? I answer proudly, “yes, I am!” But this always adds to the confusion of my princess title as most often people think it’s not a real title or I am not American.
What is something most people don’t know about you?
Most people are unaware that I am a princess. Most people are not aware that although I travel by airplane extensively, I am a fearful flyer.
What makes you smile?
If I find myself really sad, I watch an old children’s movie called “The Year without a Santa Claus”. Christmas is my favorite time of year and “The Year without a Santa Claus” not only makes me smile, it makes me happy as I believe all humans have an innocence within that is childlike.
What scares you?
What scares me is that we as humans might suddenly stop caring about the world in which we live or the people that occupy it.
Do you have any hobbies?
I love to write and golf in my spare time.
Which historical figure do you most admire?
Prince Abdu-Rahman Ibrahima Sori, not because he is my great-great grandfather, but for the strength he displayed when humbling himself while being forced into slavery, the intellect he showed when he petitioned for his freedom in the courts which could have meant his death, for the courage within him as he returned to Africa.
Can you share two of your favorite quotes with us?
“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” – Dalai Lama
“An eye for an eye, only ends up making the whole world blind.” – Mahatma Gandhi
If you had the power to change just one thing in the world what would it be?
If I had the power to change one thing in this world, it would be to rid the human mind of its ability to hate and judge others.
Princess Karen, is there anything else you would like to share?
Futa Jallon, now called Guinea and Morocco, are two countries full of rich and diverse cultures with historical significance. I am privileged to share ancestry from both countries and am humbled by their acceptance of my lineage and the welcoming of me as part of their royal families.
An accomplished author and humanitarian, Princes Karen has built on her incredible family lineage to continue on the name of her great-great grandfather, Prince Sori. Princess Karen has used her royal title for the good of the world. There are plenty of royal family members from various countries all over the globe who chose to live a life of luxury while ignoring the important role they can play to help others. This mindset sets Princess Karen a part from many others as she is not afraid to get her hands dirty to help humanity.
Her organization, the Princess Karen Chatman’s Foundation of Ancestry and Global Development, will continue to work with those groups in need and marginalized around the globe, and help them build a better life for the future.
To know more about Princess Karen and the Princess Karen Chatman’s Foundation of Ancestry and Global Development please visit www.theprincesskarenfoundation.com
Images Credit: Alexandria Chayka with LX Chayka Photography, Instagram @LX_Chayka_Photography
Makeup Artist: Danielle Devonn, Instagram @manyfacegoddess
Journalist and author. Contributor