What is your name and your home field location?
We are Jason Waylee and Patrick Julu, the coaches for Liberia. We play at Francis J. Myers Recreation Center.
How did you hear about the Unity Cup?
We heard about it a couple of months ago from our organization president who heard about it from the mayor. He signed us up instantly.
What were your initial impressions when you heard about the Unity Cup?
Everyone was happy to take part. People generally loved the idea of a city-wide soccer tournament.
Why are you so passionate about soccer?
Soccer has a huge following. It is the major sport back in Liberia as well as all of Africa. Every youth born in the African community strives for soccer before other sports. For them, soccer is a way by which they can show what kind of talent they’ve got. Also, it is a way of promoting unity in different African communities.
Why do you think soccer is so universal?
Soccer is the unifier between different cultures. It also promotes peace. For example, during the disarmament after the Liberian Crisis, soccer was used as a tool to bring different peoples back together. Not only did playing soccer go toward achieving this goal, but UNICEF used soccer stars to try to connect to the Liberian people and promote peace. It was powerful, and worked at bringing the warring factions together in some capacity.
What is your connection to the team you are playing for?
[Jason] I was born in Liberia and came to the US during the crisis, June 1991. I played soccer at home, and soccer really helped me transition to life in America. In the winter time, people really do their own thing, but when the weather gets warm, everyone comes together to play soccer. The community is close like that.
[Patrick] I was born in Liberia and came over during the Crisis. I spent 10 years as a refugee in Ghana. Soccer was all I knew during my time as a refugee. It was the only thing that could take my and others’ minds off of the negativity and give us hope.
Is there someone you identify with as the biggest influence in your community?
-Konan Mitchell, who came from Liberia in the ’80s, before everyone else who came over during the Crisis. He was a key mentor for the Liberians. He taught us about American life, helped us out, and allowed us to transition into America. One of the main things he did was encourage Liberian kids to get an education and stay off of the streets. I [Jason] estimate that 80% of Liberian kids in school today are there because of Mr. Mitchell. Everything we needed to do, we ran it through Konan. He also tried employment for the Liberians who needed it by helping them find jobs and apply for them. We [Jason and Patrick] think that he deserves some sort of award.
-All the coaches
-Also on the soccer side, there are former Liberian professional players, like legend George Weah and Patrick Saah among others. They come once a summer to play in the I.E-Barrolle game. I.E (Invincible Eleven) and Barrolle are two Liberian soccer clubs where these players used to play. They are also the two biggest clubs in Liberia. They help with the youth as well.
Is there someone in your community you look up to?
Jason: Coach Patrick. Back in Liberia, he coached a lot of guys in soccer. They call him “Big Coach,” which is a sign of respect. He is very involved in the community and helps out with all 5 Liberian community teams.
I called up Patrick before this interview and invited him to come on short notice, and Patrick’s response was “Give me 20 minutes.”
And, again, Konan Mitchell.
What do you love about living in Philadelphia?
Jason: (Joking) The food, specifically the cheesesteaks. Past that, where I live is like Little Liberia, so I still have all my cultural foods available. I also enjoy how many cultures mix and mingle with a great community spirit. I have visited other cities and could tell there were divisions.
Patrick: The multiculturalism, which reminds me of home.
Do you participate in other leagues and/or tournaments other than the Unity Cup?
There are 5 Liberian teams that have their own tournaments every summer. They have 6 or 7 tournaments per summer.
Where do you get your information/news from?
Liberian organization: Liberian Association of Pennsylvania. Not everyone attends the meetings, but information does get through there.
How are you promoting your team?
We are getting the message out to all the players and all the Liberian players inside and outside the city. People are engaged and excited, and there is strong participation.
To learn more about your team and cultural heritage, where can someone go?
We suggest experiencing the culture firsthand. Go to SW Philly, between 52nd and 68th and Woodland.