The NFL Draft for 2021 is a bit different than in the past. There’s not a full 2020 college football season on which to gauge potential draft picks’ skills due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, most organizations are in agreement that defensive end Kwity Paye is a top pick to make his NFL debut this year.
However, Kwity Paye has a pretty unorthodox story and had to overcome many more struggles than your typical American football player. For starters, his family members were refugees of the Liberian Civil War, and when Kwity was just 9 months old, he and his family fled to the United States, although his father was unable to make the trip.
Kwity Paye’s family struggled to get Kwity where he is today.
Kwity’s story begins with his mother, Agnes, who sacrificed everything so that Kwity could follow his dreams. Kwity always comes back to his mother when he needs inspiration to work hard. “I do this all for her," he explains, "so one day she'll never have to lift a finger again."
To understand what Agnes Paye sacrificed, we need to go back in time a bit to when she was just 12 years old. Agnes was living in the Krahn tribe in Liberia when rebels began killing her tribemates, including her father and brother. She was able to flee to Sierra Leone, where she lived in refugee camps. There, she met Kwity’s father, Leroy, and they fled to Guinea.
However, conditions made it impossible to survive. Agnes shared to Michigan Live, “I'm happy because through all my life in refugee camps we didn't have the opportunity to go to school, so that's why I really push my kids to go to school because I didn't have the opportunities they have now. When we were refugees in the camp, all we looked for was food to eat — that's it.”
Kwity Paye’s family struggles didn’t stop when they made it to America.
Agnes landed in Providence, R.I., where she needed to learn to read and write to support her two boys, Kwity and his older brother, Komotay Koffie. Both boys found solace in football, and as they grew older, Kwity knew he wanted to be a professional football player.
He promised his mother that if she could send him to an elite private school in Rhode Island, she wouldn’t have to pay for college.
Luckily, Kwity was able to make right on his promise by guaranteeing scholarships to multiple schools, although he eventually landed at the University of Michigan. Although the story sounds like the “American Dream,” it wasn’t so simple.
When the boys were very young, they had to live in a group home and were on food stamps and welfare to survive as immigrants in America. Kwity himself was bullied for the color of his skin and even his smell. Although he’s been in America for as long as he can remember, he’s always felt different.
So when it came time to enroll in an expensive private school, Kwity’s mother had to work two back-to-back jobs, working 16-hour days just to send him to a reputable high school. This just goes to show the faith his mother had in his success.
Kwity’s father, Leroy, on the other hand, was not able to immigrate to the United States. He had to stay back in Guinea, and although Kwity talks to him occasionally, he’s never met Leroy. All of Kwity’s family went through struggles and sacrifices that shaped Kwity Paye into becoming the hardworking and talented player he is today.
Kwity Paye hopes to use his family’s experiences as refugees to become the “Colin Kapernick of immigration.”
In a profile with ESPN, Kwity explains that he hopes to use his newfound elite status to make a change in the world. He grew up with very little luxury, and now, as a first-round NFL prospect, he’ll be able to give his family and his mother the life they’ve always dreamed of.
Kwity knows that although he’s lived in America since he was 9 months old and is now a citizen, he is also an immigrant and a refugee. He ponders, “You never know if there's another Kwity out there,” and he feels it is his duty to make sure that when there is, they have the same opportunities to reach their dreams.