For a variety of reasons, the Atlanta area has been deemed by relief agencies as an ideal place to resettle refugees from war torn areas around the world. Clarkston, Georgia is a small town just outside of Atlanta (at the end of the East-West Marta line) that found itself transformed after becoming a designated refugee relocation center in the 1990s. Suddenly little Clarkston had one of the most diverse high schools in the United States with kids from over 50 countries. Another immigrant, Luma Mufleh, decided to start a youth soccer program called the Fugees to help the kids adjust to life in the United States. The Fugees road to success was anything but simple.
The story of immigrant kids battling City Hall to play soccer was first brought to the national prominence in an article for the New York Times by reporter Warren St. John that begins: “Early last summer the mayor of this small town east of Atlanta issued a decree: no more soccer in the town park.” The riveting article explored how something so simple, hard luck kids wanting to play soccer, brought out the worst – and the best – in people. It was an engaging story that was soon picked up by the national media. Stories ran on NPR, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, etc. The story became too big to be ignored.
In the two years since St. John’s article first ran, the Fugees soccer team has become a national phenomenon. They now enjoy support from Nike, have expanded their programs, and have a place of their own to play soccer. Check out their web site for evidence of how far the Fugees program has come in two years. It’s a very American story – both the good and the bad. The movie rights have been sold and should one day be a heartwarming movie at your local cineplex.
St. John has expanded his earlier coverage in the new book Outcasts United. The author will be reading tomorrow night at The Carter Center’s Presidential Library & Museum at 7 PM. Admission is $10 a seat (or free with purchase of the book from Acapella) with a portion of the proceeds go to the Fugees Family program. It should be a great night, and I expect that some of the folks from the book will be present.