For University of Maryland linebacker and former Gilman star Melvin Keihn, the desire to see his mother, Satta, for the first time in more than a decade reached new heights when his father, Bainda Keihn, visited Satta in their native Liberia in February 2016 and reported back to his son.
“I took a picture of her,” Bainda recalled in a telephone interview June 30. “We talked. She asked me how [Melvin] was doing, and I told her that he was fine. And I sent the picture to Melvin. When he saw those pictures, he was very sad. He didn’t want to talk about it for a couple days. He took those pictures to his coaches on campus. They [said], ‘We have to be able to do something for this guy to be able to see his mom again because it’s something that he has been missing for quite a long time.'”
Melvin left a civil war-ravaged Liberia when he was 8 to join his father and step-mother in the United States, but Satta stayed in Liberia. Since he came to the U.S.14 years ago, Melvin has mastered English, became an American citizen, developed into one of the top football prospects in the Baltimore area, attended Virginia Tech for a year, and is set to enter his third year at Maryland — all with his mother in mind.
“It’s just one of those drives, you know? Everything I do, I do for my mom,” Melvin said in the fall.
Now, Melvin will realize his dream of being reunited with Satta. He’ll see her July 1 as part of a trip to Liberia that the football program and university helped him arrange. She does not know he is on his way.
Melvin’s trip is being chronicled by ESPN and the Big Ten Network. It began when Bainda drove him from College Park, Md., to Dulles International Airport for his first flight on the afternoon of June 29.
“He was making a lot of calls, saying that he couldn’t imagine the first day of seeing his mom — what is it going to be like?” Bainda said. “So the excitement was so great that he didn’t even know what to do. It was a good day. It was exciting to see him in that moment.”
The Terps posted a photo June 30 of Melvin in a Belgian airport awaiting a connecting flight to Liberia.
Melvin will stay in his native city of Monrovia on the night of June 30 and will travel to meet his mother in Kakata July 1.
Satta typically lives in a village outside of Kakata where she farms, but she’ll periodically come to Kakata, where Bainda’s uncle resides. There will be a bit of a language barrier between Melvin and Satta “because when he speaks, she doesn’t understand him well anymore compared to when he was there, because she’s not very familiar [with] English,” Bainda said, but they’ll still be able to communicate effectively.
“It’s going to be emotional,” Bainda said. “She’s going to cry. She’s going to be shocked. She’s not expecting it to happen so soon. It’s going to be an emotional event for both of them.”
Bainda hopes the features produced by ESPN and Big Ten Network about Melvin’s life encourages kids around the world to take advantage of the opportunities they have, because “too many don’t put that advantage into use,” Bainda said.
Bainda also hopes Melvin will have a chance to visit kids in Liberia to stress the importance of education and speak with government officials about improving Liberia’s education system.
“Let them know that education is the key to success regardless of what situation they’re in right now,” Bainda said. “Keep up hope. He was in the same situation before. He didn’t know the way out. There was civil war when he was born in the middle of it, and he went through that. The kids who are coming out now, the civil war has subsided. There is no more war in the country. So there is a hope out there for them.
“That is the message he is going to be putting out. Take education very seriously. If they have an opportunity, go for it, because that will set another course for you and your life. It opens doors for everybody. Whether you’re in Liberia, whether you’re in America, education is the key.”
When Melvin comes back from his trip, fall camp in College Park, Md., will be right around the corner. Melvin recorded 24 tackles (two for a loss) while working as a reserve linebacker during his redshirt sophomore season last year. Melvin will have a chance to compete for a bigger role once camp rolls around, and Bainda expects to see a hungrier Melvin after he visits his mother.
“Coming back from seeing his mom, I know he’s going to be motivated,” Bainda said. “He knows that he’s got to put a lot of time in it; you’ve got to work very hard because he’s got to make a difference. He’s even going to work harder and play harder compared to previous seasons.”