Two Worlds Collide: A Love Story

As the age-old story goes, girl met boy and they fell in love – but Denae and Sankung have their own twist to the story. The couple met in 2010, and the rest… well, it’s history.

Denae and her son Malik have called Rapid City home for several years. She grew up here and built her life with her parents by her side. And on a typical South Dakota summer day, her world would never be the same again.

A friend in New York had reached out to Denae and wanted to introduce her to a colleague of his. They had a lot of similarities and he knew they would click. A simple friend request to Sankung ignited the conversation, and from there – the two connected from opposite sides of the United States.

“Social media has turned our world into a global village,” said Sam. “Everyone is together now.”

After multiple phone calls and video chats, Denae flew to meet Sankung in New York.

“Sam picked me up at the airport, and it was exciting,” Denae remembers enthusiastically. “We clicked so well. Even if it didn’t work out, we knew we would have fun seeing the sites together.”

Two months later, Denae and Sam tied the knot and Malik moved to New York. Urban life set in and the couple soon realized that raising a little one in the city is anything but easy.

“I fell in love with the idea of living in the city – all the glitz and glamour,” said Denae. But potty training in an area with no public restrooms and long commute times to anywhere you want to go, is not ideal.

Denae and Sam moved their little family to Columbus, Ohio where they made it home for the next five years. It was closer to Denae’s parents in South Dakota and was a baby step towards rural life.

In June 2016, Sankung received his United States Naturalization and the family began their new chapter in South Dakota. Sam’s three children from Gambia reunited with him in the United States and the family of six was complete – together at last, under one roof, with a baby brother on the way.

“This community has been very welcoming to us, and offers to help wherever we need it,” said Denae.

Like any other family, they keep busy with full schedules. Sankung works a part time job and is finishing his clinical rounds to complete his Respiratory Therapy program. Denae is active in the theatre community working at the Performing Arts Center of Rapid City, and the kids are involved in numerous activities throughout the town. Fatou (age 19) is catching up on her schooling in America and is in the process of completing her GED. Tida (age 15) loves anything fashion and is a typical teenager who is tormented by her younger brothers. Modou (age 13) is the athlete of the family, playing soccer and learning all about baseball from his grandpa. And Malik (age 11), the youngest of the family stays busy at the theatre, like his mom.

“We are always busy with something,” said Sam. But still, the family makes their busy schedules work. They love spending time seeing sites together and enjoying quiet nights at home playing card games.

Of course, when you see Denae and Sam out with their family – they look just like everyone else. Shorts, TShirts and smiles across their faces are the norm. However, acknowledging their heritage is something important to each of them.

“It’s really cool that the kids all have a common ancestor,” smiled Denae proudly. Through the same African tribe, Mandinka, Fatou, Tida, Modou, and Malik all share a distant relative – the infamous Kunta Kinte (of the slave story Roots).

Being a multi-cultural family with mixed ideas, mixed views, and mixed backgrounds presents its challenges. However, at the core of it all is where it all began with Denae and Sankung’s story – love. Where there is kindness and respect, there is love, and an acceptance of everyone.

Words by Jenna Carda
Photos by Jesse Brown Nelson