Get To Know the Family Behind Silver Lining Taekwondo
To say that the year 1997 was a year of change for the Mbow’s is an understatement. Change
finds you when you aren’t looking and change finds you when you don’t even know it’s
happening. Change happened to the Mbow’s when they were individuals; not yet a married
couple, but without at least the one event of 1997, there would be no need to even write this
Laura and Mathiam Mbow had very different beginnings and middles, and all the stuff in
between. One was born in Wisconsin, but grew up in Kentucky, the other was born 6,800 miles
away on the West coast of Africa, in Senegal. One grew up the youngest of six, comfortable and
dotted on, carefree and always doing cartwheels. The other grew up the oldest of 7, ever a hard
worker. Life was complicated and often difficult. What these two had in common was a desire
to lay their own path. Free spirits, strong-willed and stubborn to the nth degree, the stars must
have known well before they did, that their paths were destined to cross.
In January of 1997, Mathiam boarded a plane in Dakar, Senegal, bound for Wisconsin. He had
never ventured away from his beloved Mother Land, but an opportunity to continue his
education in the United States had been offered, and after scoring the second highest score (his
best friend Cherif scored highest), Mathiam made the decision to seize the moment and left his
beloved home and family for the ever-mysterious Wisconsin.
Mathiam arrived on a very cold day at O’Hare international airport in Chicago. He then boarded
a Van Gelder bus for Madison. With his belongings in a bag, a $100 to his name, no winter coat,
and a serious question about what he had done, he was greeted by Cherif Correa, his best
friend from home. Visa red tape meant that Cherif and Mathiam did not get to travel together,
but Cherif, now a seasoned Wisconsinite (after 4 months!) helped show Mathiam the ropes.
Still, after weeks in Wisconsin, the snow and bitter cold nearly drove Mathiam back to the heat
of Senegal. But in an effort to convince Mathiam to stay, Cherif introduced him to a strong and
supportive Senegalese community, right here in Madison (these same people would play a
pivotal role in Laura’s life later).
With the support of this welcoming community, Mathiam began to draw on his love of home
and the things that made him feel closer to the culture and people he was so far away from. He
began to cook. Cooking in African culture is pretty strictly a “woman’s job”, but he remembered
time spent with this mom. Watching her, helping her in the kitchen. He used those strong
memories and that bond to guide him as he learned to cook for himself. Many dishes ended up
in the trash, he may have even started a fire or two, but he honed his skill, and today, he cooks
with love for the family he has built.
Fast forward 2 years, time was running out on his student Visa, Mathiam attended a business
fair and was discovered by a manager at TDS Metrocom. She loved his personality and
enthusiasm, and after he explained that his Visa was running out, she got him in touch with
people at TDS to help him stay in the United States. He began his professional career at
Metrocom in April of 1999.
1997 was a little different for Laura. After moving back to Wisconsin, Laura was in the midst of
establishing herself in Madison business. She had been working for 2 years with a prominent
property development company downtown when she heard of an opening for an executive
assistant position in a relatively new company TDS Metrocom. She submitted her resume and
over breakfast at Perkins on a Saturday morning, she had her interview with the president of
TDS Metrocom. She was hired, and for more reasons than she can explain, it was the best
decision she had ever made, and to this day, it was her favorite job. Laura started at TDS
Metrocom on October 25, 1999 and on that day, she met Mathiam.
Feeling the need to familiarize herself with all the names of the employees and the
departments they all worked in, Laura studied the phone list and came across a name that
stumped her. Mathiam Mbow? Male, female? How do you pronounce this name? All those
questions were answered when she went to get coffee that morning. There was a man standing
at the coffee machine in a vibrant blue African outfit, resting on crutches, having just had (the
first of many) ACL surgery. Laura introduced herself and carried his coffee back to his desk. The
friendship started that day and continued for 5 years.
Shortly after 9/11 Mathiam traveled home to Senegal. Laura remembers being afraid she would
never see her friend again. So many things had changed for Muslims in the United States after
that day. She implored him to not wear his beautiful African clothes, to stay away from the
Mosque, etc. and certainly don’t travel. But the man of strong faith traveled anyway and the
day he returned and Laura set eyes on him, she ran to him, and hugged him like she had a
million times before, but this time, with a depth of love even she didn’t truly acknowledge until
Fast forward to 2004, Mathiam invited Laura to attend a wedding with him. The wedding took
place on September 11. A day of worldwide heart break refined by love. Standing there, next
to this man that she had known for so long, she had a sudden feeling that should be them
getting married. Laura remembers shaking her head, trying to empty her mind of such feelings,
but as the night went on, the feeling only grew stronger, and dancing with Mathiam now
seemed somehow different.
6 months later, Mathiam and Laura were engaged. 4 months after that they were married in
the very same Mosque, she had asked Mathiam to stay away from 3 years before and in March
of 2006 their son, Cherif, was born. Cherif is a beautiful amalgamation of them both. He is tall
and handsome like his dad, stubborn like his mom, and talented. Both Mathiam and Laura were
English majors; they both have a way with words, but their son. His writing ability far exceeds
theirs. His teachers call him a prodigy, and Laura and Mathiam cannot disagree.
Since he was a teenager, Mathiam has studied Taekwon-Do. He recently tested for his Sixth
Degree Black Belt. While the stripes on his belt matter, it’s the lessons he has learned about life
along the way that really move him. Coupled with his strong faith, Mathiam is securely
anchored in who he is and what he wishes to become. Those life lessons and an acute drive to
succeed (and perhaps an ad on Craigs List) led Mathiam to escape corporate life and take a leap
of faith to teach Taekwon-Do full time. While this was a dream for the future, an 18-month-old
and a mortgage caused the Mbow’s to think long and hard about this decision, but if there is
anything to know about the Mbow’s, they do not back down from a challenge. After being head
instructor and general manager for a local Marital Arts school for 2 years, the Mbow’s bought
the Middleton location from the person Mathiam was working for and in 2016, the Mbow’s
took the extra leap of faith to rebrand themselves Silver Lining Taekwon-Do.
The name in and of itself is a daily reminder that no matter what happens, there is always a
silver lining. Nothing in life that is worth achieving is easy, and school ownership is no
exception. A 100-year flood in summer of 2018 was a challenge they weren’t sure they would
overcome, but friends, neighbors, family members, and clients rallied around the Mbow’s to
make sure they would make it and make it they did. In December of 2018, Laura left her job as
operations manager at Trachte in Oregon after almost 12 years. The same job that afforded
them the stability and security had changed and now it was Laura’s turn to make a leap into the
unknown. Less than 18 months later another unknown emerged. This one no one expected
and was possibly more devastating than the first – the pandemic. While the pandemic was, and
still is devastating to many, it provided a hiatus to normal life for the Mbow family. For the first
time ever, they ate dinner as a family every night, not just on Sunday’s. They cooked together
and ate that magical Senegalese food that Mathiam now cooks almost as well as the ladies back
home. They had time together, more time than they had ever had. And while it was great in so
many ways, the reality of it was, there were sleepless nights, for all 3 of them. Would they still
have a business to go to when the lockdown was over? Would it still be able to sustain them?
Those were questions that have since been answered and that faith and hope helped them
transcend, but COVID was quietly eating away at their teenage son. It wasn’t until later that
they realized the depth of his pain.
COVID was a huge challenge for Cherif, like so many kids. An empath by nature, a natural
communicator, he suffered during the shutdown and eventual virtual school. Crippled by
depression and anxiety, both Mathiam and Laura thought writing about his feelings might help.
Words matter to Mathiam and Laura and this old soul, they believed he had something to say,
so Mathiam cleared out a big red notebook and gave it to their son. While he might have
written something in that notebook, it was his iPhone that became the keeper of his words. His
words turned into mantras, and collections of fears, hopes, dreams. Once the words began to
flow, he discovered there was more to his thoughts. He began making beats, and alas, a
budding Hip Hop artist was born.
Today, thanks to a new program called Hip Hop Co-Op at Middleton High School, Cherif has
discovered his artistry and with the support and guidance of his teachers he is becoming a
strong voice in an often under valued and discarded genre in music. He has hopes and dreams
and Mathiam and Laura are there, steadfast in their support of this kid who has become the
best parts of them both.
Together, they are building “the United Nations” of Middleton. A place where clients are family
and with any luck, the students and families that enter their doors will leave with a new
perspective and respect for life and the people in it. Some might even become great Martial
Artists! The Mbow family loves their community in Middleton and hope to continue building
their school and their life there. Mathiam and Laura might not have met if any shift if their
respective paths had been made. What matters in the end is that they did.