That’s right – GEORGIA. Refugees relocated from all corners of the globe to Clarkston, Georgia. For my international buddies, Georgia is located in our American SOUTH… folks tend to be set in their ways, so an influx of resettled refugees in the 1990’s caused no small stir. I also live in the south – Virginia, the State of (I know, I know what’s with being named after a State? but my Mama’s name is Virginia, my Great Aunt – Virginia, my Great Grandmother – Virginia, my Father’s oldest sister – Virginia – and his Mother was Virginia Clare, so we are ‘Virginia-ed’ on both sides of the family!) But the State of Virginia is not SOUTH like Georgia… Folks in Georgia are kinda set in their ways. Change takes time.
In this VERY inspiring book, Outcasts United, news reporter Warren St. John documents how change eventually does come to Clarkston through an unlikely source – a diverse group of refugee football (soccer) players united together by Luma Mufleh, their dynamic coach & founder of the Fugees Team. Luma, a Jordanian who grew up loving Football, came to the U.S. to play women’s collegiate Soccer (there are very few opportunities for women to play a men’s sport like Football in Jordan!) She definitely is a Rose in the Rubble as she shakes up the status quos of the town, impacts the lives of the players & sacrifices so much of herself for them.
Warren St. John weaves Luma’s story with the stories of the refugee families from the DRC, Sudan, Liberia, Bosnia – the challenges where they came from & when they arrive in the U.S. – and the story of Clarkston, as many town members did NOT provide a warm welcome (some examples of ignorant injustice may require a few ‘let-off-steam-abouts!’)
Luma is a no-nonsense Coach who instills a high standard of excellence into the boys – on & off the field – with tough workouts, mandatory tutoring & disciplined commitment from each player. As she engages with the players, she encounters the shattered lives of their families…and is there for them. Luma & the Fugees face almost insurmountable challenges – 1st unity, as the players come from all over the world, some barely speaking English; then there’s the concrete practice field (& at times no playing field); lack of equipment (shoes for the players, no Goal for almost the whole 1st season!), gangs-about the practice area; & town prejudice – all as Luma must juggle her own personal & professional struggles to squeeze in time to coach.
Working in the past with refugees in Africa & the Middle East, I know firsthand many challenges refugees face overseas, but knew little of the resettlement process in America. This book definitely provides an eye-opening education of what refugees face here. But at the core this is an inspiring story of Hope, Overcoming Adversity, Change-Agents-in-Action, & Sports (with lots of exciting Football/Soccer matches!)
We need more resilient Roses like Luma, her buddies, and the people of Clarkston – who eventually (it’s a long road!) rally around the team to welcome the refugees in their midst.
Here’s a link to the Fugees website – be sure to check out the inspirational video of Luma & the team!! http://www.fugeesfamily.org/index.htm