"I want to meet with the mixed kids" of South Korea, Ward said when he arrived in Seoul this week, accompanied by his mother, Kim Young Hee, an Atlanta resident. "I want to give them my encouragement, because I know we all had something to overcome."
In 1975, Kim married Ward's father, an African American serviceman serving in South Korea. Ward was born in Seoul, and shortly afterward the young family moved to Georgia to begin a new life there.
But Ward's parents separated before his second birthday, and his father was awarded custody. The courts deemed his mother, who had stayed on in the United States, unfit to raise a child because of her financial instability and weak command of English.
Six years later, his father sent him to live with her. At first, Ward said, he felt ashamed of her and things Korean. "I didn't want my friends to see me with my mom," he said at the airport. "She was just different."
But as he grew up, he said, mother and son formed a strong bond — and Ward developed a profound respect for her and his Korean origins. Kim worked a series of minimum-wage jobs to support her son, always insisting that he concentrate on his studies as well as football.
"I think my mom had to overcome much more than what I had to," he said. "To come from Korea to America, to really not depend on anyone, just kind of worked her tail off to get to where she's at. I love my mom for who she is." Ward's loyalty to his mother has been played big in the Korean press, which has linked it to Korean Confucian values that stress filial piety.
“ What would have become if I’d brought Hines to Korea? Perhaps he could have become no more than a beggar. Would anyone here have hired me, even as a house cleaner? Now that Hines is famous, they are paying a lot of attention. Yeah, well. It’s burdensome, really. That’s just life, no?”