The Paye Family’s Journey From Refugee to a Hopeful Future
Michigan DE Kwity Paye. Photo Credit: Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports.
When Agnes Paye was 15 years old she was far from dreaming about how her children would one day attend a big university in the United States of America. Paye was definitely not thinking of how proud she would feel when her sons were playing football for two NCAA Division 1 programs.
All Paye was thinking about at 15 years old was surviving the Liberian “Blood Diamond” War. Agnes’s Krahn Tribe was under attacked and members were being killed every day. They were forced to become refugees and evacuate into the neighboring country, Sierra Leone. As I sat at Agnes’s kitchen table I could see the passion in her face and hear sincerity in her words as she told me the story.
“We had to go, they would kill everyone, they would kill all the children too. If they knew you were in your house, just like we are now, they would surround the house and burn it with everyone inside” said Paye.
She thanked her aunt for helping her to find refuge and safety in Sierra Leone. Agnes recalled a night a couple of years after they had been settled on a farm near the border.
“It was the middle of the night, maybe 4 a.m. and the Liberian soldiers crossed the border and attacked the camps. Many people were killed, we all had to run into the woods, we were out there for days.”
Paye followed the refugees to the city of Freetown. A few years later, Agnes gave birth to her oldest son Komotay Koffie before Sierra Leone came under attack by the Liberian nationals for housing the refugees. The Liberian refugees were forced to leave and move on to the neighboring country of Guinea. Paye was now on the move with a small child, making things a little more difficult.
“Guinea was very tough on me,” Paye said, “everyone spoke French so it was hard.” Once Agnes was finally settled, she had her second son, Kwity Paye.
Agnes was a young mother with two young boys and hoped to get to the United States, where she could have a chance at raising her children in a safe environment. Paye’s aunt took the trip first and then was able to send for her grandmother. Eventually, the grandmother would send for Agnes and her boys.
Ms. Paye said, “I wanted to come to America so I could give my sons all the opportunities possible.”
Paye and her family wound up in Providence, Rhode Island living with eight family members in a small apartment. It was not ideal, but it was a shot a the life Agnes now wanted for her family. Five years later, Paye was making ends meet for her family and her sons starting to show athletic promise.
Komotay and Kwity were running track at the Fox Point Boys and Girls Club in Providence as well as their football journey. They played for the West End Intruders, North End Forty-Niners, North End Seahawks and then Kwity finished at Edgewood Eagles Varsity Football.
Agnes admits “I didn’t know much about football, we played soccer where I came from.” Kwity agreed, “she knows I play defense and tackle people” but that was about it.
While Kwity was playing his final youth football season, his brother had some hard choices to make. Komotay was going to Juanita Sanchez High School in Providence, Rhode Island and they were a small Division 4 program. Knowing he would not get a lot of exposure, Komotay looked for guidance from his track coach and mentor Kris McCall.
McCall and Agnes figured out a plan that would send Koffie to Knoxville, Tennessee to play high school football and pursue his dream of getting a scholarship to play Division 1 football. The road was bumpy and it led Komotay from Rhode Island to Tennessee, to a Prep School in New York and finally to play junior college football at North Dakota State College of Science.
“I never thought about quitting, even when people would tell me to give up,” Koffie said. “My mom supported me every step of the way and told me to follow my dreams. She would ask what I wanted to do every time. I would say I want to keep trying so she would say okay.”
“Komotay’s drive is ridiculous man, it comes from his mother and the unbreakable bond of that family,” Coach McCall said. “[He’s] been in 15 different situations that would’ve made a regular person quit, he is truly fearless!”
The will to survive and persevere through tough times finally paid off for Komotay when one night at a basketball game his cell phone rang. “I didn’t know the number. I said hello and the voice on the other end said ‘Are you ready to play football for the New Mexico State Aggies?'”
The voice on the other end of the line was New Mexico State University defensive backs coach Brian Bell. Coach Bell watched Koffie’s game video and they made Komotay an offer on the spot.
“After Coach Bell offered me the word must have got out because I started getting calls from a bunch of schools,” Koffie said. “I stayed with New Mexico State because they were the ones who believed in me first.”
Loyalty is just another gleaming quality Agnes Paye has bestowed upon her sons. In 2017 Koffie was a starting defensive back for the Aggies as they took their first trip to a bowl game in 57 years and defeated Utah State 26-20 in the Arizona Bowl.
Kwity Paye’s road was different from his brother’s, but it was still a difficult road nonetheless. Kwity had the size and athleticism that, with the right guidance and training, could lead him to great places. When Kwity was in eighth grade, he had to decide which path his high school career would take.
Kwity took the entrance exam to get into Classical High School and Bishop Hendricken High School. He was accepted into both schools and while Classical was less than 1 mile away from home and free, Kwity wanted the football powerhouse and tuition-based Bishop Hendricken. Kwity said he discussed the decision with both his mother and mentor, Edgewood Eagles Coach Joe Carbone.
During the discussions, Kwity said with a huge smile, “I promised my Mom if she let me go to Bishop Hendricken that I would go to college for free.”
Agnes wouldn’t stand in the way of her son’s dreams and agreed to let Kwity go to Bishop Hendricken. Kwity would spend the next four years getting up extra early to take the city bus from Providence to Warwick in rain, sleet or snow. Agnes would spend that time picking up extra shifts at work to be able to pay for Kwity’s education.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my mother and her sacrifice, I owe it all to her,” Kwity said.
While at Bishop Hendricken Kwity would excel in football, being named All-State and Gatorade Player of the Year. Agnes would find a way to make it to every one of Kwity’s football games.
“Kwity was one of the most sincere, well-rounded athletes who just happened to be immensely talented, that I have had the pleasure of working with. I know Kwity has a sincere desire to make the most of his life because of the sacrifices he and his Mother have made for their family” Kwity’s coach Keith Croft said, an eight-time state champion.
Kwity was the most sought after football player in Rhode Island by NCAA scouts in recent memory. He ended up signing with Jim Harbaugh and the University of Michigan, one of the biggest signings in Rhode Island High School football history.
“Kwity is a student who happens to be an athlete. I know he is going to make the most of his Michigan experience,” Coach Croft said.
Since arriving at Michigan Kwity has earned the starting defensive end job as a sophomore, he has been named All-Academic Big 10 and he was the Wolverine’s Defensive Player of the Week three times.
One of Kwity’s goals is to be able to help out with his family’s financial situation. “I want to pay for my little brother’s college and get my mom anything she wants. I’m split down the middle if it is going to be from football or my degree,” he admitted.
Even in the midst of football superstardom Kwity stays grounded and really doesn’t get lost in the glamour of everything happening around him, it is very impressive to witness first hand. A mother and two brothers with an incredible struggle behind them have a bright future ahead.