Bashiru Kormah awoke before sunrise Friday, still hopeful that he could join his club soccer team on a 10-day trip to Italy this week for training sessions, matches and cultural experiences.
Only days earlier, his hope had begun to fade. Kormah, an Osseo High School junior known to everyone simply as “BK,” had done everything asked of him. He bagged groceries, raked leaves, served up spaghetti dinners and participated in countless other fundraisers since last fall to save the necessary $3,700 travel cost.
But obtaining a passport proved to be a complex, exhausting and, at times, frustrating process for the Liberia native. It stretched over months and finally ended successfully Friday when BK secured a special visa that will allow him to travel with his team on Wednesday.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “I’m so happy.”
The final push came when Chad Thomas, whom BK considers a surrogate father, boarded a 6 a.m. Friday flight to Chicago for a hastily scheduled meeting at the Italian Consulate, arranged by Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. For Chad, it was a last-ditch effort to help a young man he met three years ago but now considers his son.
The painstaking efforts made by the Thomas family of Maple Grove, Klobuchar’s office and a network of supporters was not based solely on a soccer tournament.
The focus belongs on a kid who deserved a break and his genuine appreciation for the gifts in his life.
BK’s family fled a civil war in Liberia and spent three years at a refugee camp in Ghana before immigrating to Minnesota. His mother was lost during the civil war, presumed dead. Though his father was naturalized here, he decided to return to Liberia two years ago. He told BK and an adult daughter to stay here and seek a better education.
BK’s background and family history provided layer upon layer of complications in trying to secure a passport. Important personal documents went missing. Communication with his father in Liberia was difficult or sometimes got lost in translation.
The physical distance between BK and his father, who was needed to sign and return paperwork, presented challenges. Chad and his wife, Tanya, logged countless hours dealing with one obstacle after another.
They eventually sought help from Klobuchar, whose office provided guidance and legwork. She called the Italian ambassador on Thursday in an effort to resolve the issue.
“I pled the case and explained how important this is to the community,” Klobuchar said Friday from Washington. “We should embrace efforts like this, a straight-A student, a kid who is willing to go the extra mile to raise the money so he can go on this trip. That’s what our country is all about.”
BK arrived in Minnesota at age 10. He has no recollection of his mother and remembers snippets from his time in the refugee camp. He recalls taking long walks with his father and siblings in search of water that was safe to drink.
“It’s just really difficult,” he said.
He always loved soccer, which became an outlet for making friends and feeling part of the Twin Cities community. A few years ago at the Schwan’s Cup in Blaine, he met a kid named Carson Thomas. The two became close friends and eventual teammates in the MapleBrook club.
Carson’s parents recognized BK’s potential, and not just in soccer. They saw a genuineness in his optimism and his desire to get a good education. But he needed support.
“He’s a kid who once you learn more about him, you want him to get those opportunities,” Chad said.
The family opened its heart and home to him. BK has become their third child, maybe not legally but in every other way imaginable. He’s their “un-adopted son,” Chad jokes.
BK lives with his older sister in Brooklyn Park, but he has his own bedroom in the Thomas’ home. He accompanies them on vacations and spends holidays with them. They buy him clothes, help him with bills, take him to church.
BK needed a ride to referee youth soccer games in another suburb one day last week. None of his friends was available so he called Chad.
On my way, Chad told him. BK hung up and cried.
“It just shows how good they are to me because I know they don’t have to do that,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m here without a dad or parents. I feel like I’m part of a family.”
He doesn’t take that for granted, either. A kid who has witnessed the worst in society has thrived in his new environment. He’s taking mostly Advanced Placement classes. This summer he’s coaching a youth soccer team and participating in Upward Bound, a federally funded program that prepares students for college.
He interviewed this week for a position on a youth leadership council in Brooklyn Park. He’s organized packing parties at Feed My Starving Children because he ate that food in his refugee camp.
“I believe what people have given me is more than I ever expected so giving back to the community was something that means a lot to me,” he said. “Coming from a refugee camp, I know how those meals helped us.”
His goal is to earn multiple college degrees, and he dreams of working for the United Nations some day.
“The main reason I’m here is to graduate and go to college,” he said. “I’m going to go for my Ph.D. If there’s a level higher than Ph.D., I will go for it. I want to go as far as I can.”
No one should doubt him.
“He’s going to change the world,” Chad Thomas said. “We wanted to give him opportunities to do that because that’s all he needs.”
Chip Scoggins firstname.lastname@example.org