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Hollywood Actress Rediscovers African Roots

Actress CCH Pounder has made a name for herself in American television, where she now has a major role in the police drama The Shield. Mike O'Sullivan reports, the actress has come a long way from her childhood in Guyana to the lights of Hollywood, and along the way has rediscovered her African heritage.

The Afro-Caribbean actress reconnected with her roots through her husband, Senegalese-born anthropologist Boubacar Kone. The two met in Los Angeles and married 14 years ago. About that time, he had an idea.

"I always said, I have to go back and do something about Senegal. So I'm not somebody who's going to build a church or synagogue or mosque, so we don't have a museum culture. So I said it's much better to have a museum," Mr. Kone explained.

He started an art museum, the Musee Boribana, just outside the Senegalese capital of Dakar. His wife shares his interest in contemporary African art. At first, she showcased art in their home in Los Angeles, and two years ago she opened her own gallery in the city.

"It's still the focus of introducing African artists to the United States, but as I'm from the Caribbean, I introduce Caribbean artists, and African-American artists as well," explained the actress.

CCH - the initials stand for Carol Christine Hilaria - was born in Georgetown, Guyana. She attended a school for the arts in Sussex, England, and Ithica College in New York State. She has appeared in dozens of movies, and has had continuing roles on television in the earlier hospital drama ER, as well as The Shield.

She joined performers Robert Guillaume and his wife, Donna Brown Guillaume, Alfree Woodard, Blaire Underwood and others in a group eventually called Artists for a New South Africa. They had been asked by political activist Nelson Mandela to speak out against apartheid, the system of racial separation imposed on South Africa by its former white government.

"Because we are artists in our different genres, musicians or actors and so on, the media often give us a platform for our voices to be heard," she said. "And so Nelson Mandela asked if there were African-American artists who could help service the breaking of apartheid, and we were one of many, many groups."

With democratization and the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa's president, she says the group has changed its focus.

"We realized the enormous amount of work that had to be done in South Africa. And so we're now working with pediatric AIDS, AIDS educational information, getting books and services there. We worked along with Habitat for Humanity building houses," she explained. "So it's a lot of lending our voice to other people's projects, and getting them out there so that they can be serviced."

So far, the group has channeled eight million dollars into South African aid projects.

CCH and Boubacar divide their time between Los Angeles and Dakar, where they have a home on an island near the city. They say they are bridging two cultures, bringing together the world of contemporary Africa and the world of Hollywood entertainment.