Richly detailed, uplifting account of a young Jordanian émigré who created a soccer program in Georgia for young refugees from war-torn nations.
Expanding on his front-page series in the New York Times, St. John (Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, 2004) shows one determined woman profoundly impacting the lives of dozens of impoverished families. Arriving in the sleepy Atlanta suburb of Clarkston shortly after her graduation from Smith College in 1997, Luma Mufleh saw young refugee children playing soccer in the vacant lots around town. She persuaded the local YMCA to fund a free soccer program and signed on as its unpaid coach. She forged a team, the Fugees, out of recruits from such disparate lands as Liberia, Sudan, Zaire, Kosovo and Afghanistan. She offered youngsters traumatized by civil war and genocide the chance to enjoy a familiar pastime, often acting as a surrogate mother for children whose struggling parents worked long hours to support them. The Fugees’ birth was not without challenges. Mufleh had to overcome prejudice from wary Clarkston residents, who resented the thousands of foreigners placed in their midst by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. Mayor Lee Swaney repeatedly blocked the Fugees from practicing on the town’s unused playing fields. Mufleh also had to combat the lure of local street gangs, “which promised both belonging and status” to kids who had little experience of either. Nevertheless, under her stern but steady guidance, the Fugees proved more than competitive against their better-equipped, well-supported suburban opponents. St. John combines this underdog sports saga with shocking background on the frequently bloody journeys taken by refugee families en route to Clarkston. He also provides some valuable sociological insight into the adjustments required from both the refugees and their Clarkston neighbors to keep this small-town melting pot from boiling over.
Readable, educational and enriching.