BY MARY MITCHELL Sun-Times Columnist

I haven’t been a fan of ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” since award-winning actor Isaiah Washington was fired in 2007.

Now, if I catch the show, I catch it. If not, I don’t bother with TiVo.

I had hoped that Washington, who until then was best known for his roles in Spike Lee films, would go on to bigger roles.

So I was surprised to learn that he would be in Chicago — not walking a red carpet –but to raise money for clean drinking water in Sierra Leone villages.

On Thursday, Washington will host a fund-raiser from 6-9 p.m. at G.R. N’Namdi Gallery, 110 N. Peoria. Tickets cost $75, and proceeds will help provide filters to purify well water. (For more information, please go to

Like other actor-activists, such as Ossie Davis and Danny Glover, Washington is using his celebrity status to raise the public’s awareness of the problems still plaguing Africa.

“I realized no matter how many schools I build, how much I raise to rebuild hospitals, I found out very quickly with the wells, that waterborne diseases were the No. 1 problem — killing more people than HIV and malaria all over the world,” Washington said during a telephone interview.

“Filters made out of clay turn a gallon of water into clean drinking water within an hour,” he said.

But Washington is also hopeful that his self-discovery will help other African Americans search for the truth about their own history.

In 2006, after DNA testing revealed Washington’s ancestral link to the Mende people of Sierra Leone, the actor founded “The Gondobay Manga Foundation,” an organization dedicated to helping the country rebuild after an 11-year civil war.

The DNA testing was part of “The Canada Lee Award” that Washington received from the Pan African Film Festival.

“Throughout my young adult life in New York I had pretty much been accosted by individuals who refused to believe I was not from Senegal or West Africa,” Washington said.

“I was walking around with locks and cowrie shells to show my allegiance [to Africa] when all along it was in my DNA.”

Last April, Washington was granted full citizenship and was issued an official Sierra Leone passport. Washington claims he also is the only person given an African full citizenship based on DNA.

Three years ago, when Washington was booted off the set of “Grey’s Anatomy” for using a homophobic slur during an argument with another cast member, he was castigated in the media as the “angry black man.”

Ironically, Washington has fought stereotypes most of his film career.

“Black men were never allowed to be a prince in television. I went out to Hollywood to change that. I became an actor to change and re-evaluate these roles,” he said.

“I played a gay character on “Get on the Bus” because I got tired of eye-popping, neck rolling and finger popping portrayals,” he said.

He refused to cut his locks for his role in “Love Jones,” and his reoccurring role as Dr. Preston Burke was a breakthrough for TV drama.

Washington believes he has paved the way for other actors.

“When I look at television commercials and see these nappy-headed children on TV, I know that by refusing to cut my hair I had a part in making it possible,” he said.

Obviously, his fans want to see more of him on the screen.

But they will be happy to know that Washington is living his real life with purpose.

He recently completed his first memoir, A Man From Another Land, and soon will lead an Africa/China Alliance to rebuild the infrastructure of Sierra Leone.

Today, he sees parallels between his own journey and those of black people in general.

“I believe that most African Americans are running around angry and confused because of this genetic pull of wanting to know their place of origin and the people they came from.

“What that answer did for me — it provided a bookend for all the literature, all the books, and for everything I thought I knew about Africa,” he said.

“It put me at peace.”

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