When Alondria McCoy went into labor with her third child at 19 weeks, less than halfway through a full term, doctors warned her that if her baby survived he would be profoundly disabled.
She hung on for seven more weeks, monitored in the hospital. But her baby still weighed only 1 pound, 14 ounces, tiny enough to fit in a nurse’s palm and fragile enough that a touch could damage his flesh. He needed heart surgery, and it was far from clear that he’d ever lead an independent life.
At a time when thousands of parents are celebrating their teens’ graduation, McCoy may be one of the proudest. Camaree Lakobian “Kobi” Paige, 17, graduates from Hopewell High on Saturday.
As he moved through school – Paige was the third generation in his family to attend Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Lincoln Heights Elementary School – he struggled to keep up with his classmates. But his disabilities weren’t what made him special.
What has always stood out about Paige is his calling to preach, his family says. “We were born and raised in the church,” his mother says, “but he was different. He was like an old soul.”
When his parents couldn’t find the remote control, they knew to look in their son’s room. He’d use it as a microphone, imitating his pastor for hours on end.
He insisted on dressing like a preacher, too. Photos from his fourth birthday show him in a white shirt, tie and glittery wrestling belt, combing his two passions at the time.
When he learned to read at 7, he read from the Bible, which he’d been carrying around for years.
“I always knew that God would use me. I knew that He would take me places,” Paige says. “It felt amazing, to know that somebody loved me and didn’t see my disabilities or didn’t see my mishaps. I felt loved by God.”
He was also loved by family. His parents separated when he was young, but his mom says he’s been raised by a village: her and her husband, David McCoy, as well as his father, Christopher Redfern, and his wife, Belinda Redfern.
Paige’s heart problems meant he couldn’t play football like his older brothers, Cordero and Christian. But they always respected their little brother’s passion for religion, their mother says.
Paige was 9 when he first preached to his church. At 14 he was certified as a minister in training at the nondenominational Bread of Life Deliverance Church, now known as Harvest Kingdom.
Learning often took him longer, but Paige persisted as he moved through Martin and Ranson middle schools. His favorite Bible verse, Isaiah 40:31, speaks to his journey:
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
At Hopewell High Paige made the honor roll twice, and had enough credits to graduate in January.
Alondria McCoy watched with pride as her son became more and more independent. He’s no longer the baby of the family; Paige now has a 5-year-old brother, Cameron. The two older boys grew up and moved out of town.
But McCoy, who had fought so hard for her son to live and thrive, always thought he would stay in Charlotte, close to home.
Paige, however, insisted that God has other plans. After seeing a TV commercial for Valor Christian College in Columbus, Ohio, he knew that would be his next step.
“I just feel like that’s the place for me to be,” he said. “That’s home.”
David McCoy took their son’s side. “There’s that world out there that kids have to explore for themselves,” he said. “He’s ready.”
So Paige will head to Ohio in August – to study for the ministry, of course.
He has this advice for other young people who struggle with disabilities or differences: “Forget about what people say. Think about what God said about you. His word is the final word.”
And his mother adds this word for parents: “Just allow your children to be your children. Allow them to be different.”
About this series
The Observer asked readers and school leaders for suggestions of standout graduates. Today, we continue a series of stories about students who illustrate a range of accomplishments, including some who overcame significant obstacles.