The Fugees Family: Pride and Prejudice in a Strange Land

Images courtesy of the Fugees Family.

I was initially drawn to this story due to an event in my own life. During high school in Washington, D.C., my football (soccer) team was not allowed to practice on our home pitches.

“Those fields are for the real athletes.”

As in gridiron football. We did have use of the pitch for a few home matches; however, most of our fixtures were away. For the first two years, we ran each afternoon about 1 mile (1.6 km) to a bumpy baseball field for training after school. During my final two years, we had to arrange transportation each day to a regulation soccer pitch about 7 miles (11 km) from our school.

Back in those days, there were no “Soccer Moms or Dads.” Those who could drive and had cars transported the rest of the team back and forth to training without any reimbursement for gasoline/petrol. We were the only school team that had to do this. Our manager was a young carpenter who used to arrive 30 minutes after we began practice.

When I read Mark Carter’s article, “A Blueprint for Youth Football Training,” a few weeks ago, one quote about parental involvement was quite salient. Mr. Carter is the founder of Ministry of Football, which is located in North London. He is also a coach of 7-9 year olds on the Watford FC Academy.

“There’s a great poster I saw recently that sums this up. It was designed for the parent’s viewing area at an Academy: A picture of a little child sitting under a tree reading a book, with a caption — ‘You wouldn’t shout at me while I’m learning to read!'”

We had no screaming parents barking out commands from the sidelines. There were no parents to be seen or heard. 🙂

While our plight paled in comparison to what you will read, it does bring up a relative point. Many things in the American soccer landscape have changed, while others have remained the same. When you grow up in the desert of world football, the fight for acceptance seemingly never ends. I hope that you enjoy this brief profile. In my humble opinion, the Fugees Family is an example of the power of football to unite, nurture, and teach life lessons to all of us.

The Fugees Family

The Fugees Family is a humanitarian organization that assists refugees in the American State of Georgia. This important project was founded by a youth coach, Ms. Luma Mufleh, who was born and raised in Jordan. She came to the United States for University, and decided to remain.

Their Mission Statement

“To challenge and nurture refugee families so that they may recognize and fulfill their potential.”

“Every year, the United States Refugee Program welcomes refugees into this country so that they can escape the harsh realities of the war-torn countries that they have fled. They are expected to transition into our country regardless of language barriers, cultural differences and harsh economic realities. The Fugees Family programming makes this transition easier for families, by connecting them with social resources while embracing the cultural diversity that enriches the refugee population.

Fugees Family is a non-profit organization whose goal is to help refugee families transition to life in the United States through self-reliance and sustainability. Our programs educate and build self-confidence in a community that has often been neglected.

The Fugees started three years ago as a soccer team for refugee boys in the Clarkston area. Volunteer coach, Luma Mufleh, quickly realized that the needs of this particular team were going to be unique. Mentoring and after-school help were implemented the second year. Recognizing that as one single volunteer she couldn’t begin to address the complex needs of the players and their families, in fall 2006, Luma helped found the Fugees Family.”

Denied Access to a Local Pitch

Last January 2007, the “Fugees” received mainstream American media coverage that began with the following article that appeared in the New York Times: “Refugees Find Hostility and Hope on the Soccer Field” by Mr. Warren St. John. The story was prompted due to a statement made by the Mayor of the town of Clarkston, Georgia (not far from Atlanta), the Honorable Lee Swaney: (The following quotes are taken from Mr. St. John’s original article on 21 January 2007).

“No more soccer in the town park. There will be nothing but baseball and (gridiron) football down there as long as I am mayor,” Lee Swaney, a retired owner of a heating and air-conditioning business, told the local paper.

“Those fields weren’t made for soccer.”

“Last October, Coach Mufleh attended a City Council meeting to plead her case to use the town park field. Mr. Swaney takes the floor. He admits concerns about ‘grown soccer people‘ who might tear up the field. But these are kids, he says, and ‘kids are our future.’ He announces his support of a six-month trial for the Fugees’ use of the field in Milam Park. The proposal passes unanimously. At least for six months, the Fugees can play on grass.”

The Mayor Has Selective Memory

“On Dec. 26, Ms. Mufleh receives a fax on Town of Clarkston letterhead. Effectively immediately, the fax informs her, the Fugees soccer team is no longer welcome to play at Milam Park. The city is handing the field to a youth sports coordinator who plans to run a youth baseball and (gridiron) football program. Questioned by this reporter (Warren St. John), Mayor Swaney says he has forgotten that in October the City Council gave the Fugees six months. A few days later, he tells Ms. Mufleh the team can stay through March.”

Appearance on CNN

Donations from Universal Studios and Nike

Due to the publicity surrounding the original article by Mr. St. John, Universal Studios donated US $500,000 to build a new field and fund a Foundation for the Fugees. According to Variety, there may be a movie and book deal in the future.

“The article detailed the unlikely success story of the Fugees, a team of refugees from global hotspots including Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Burundi, Congo, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan. Placed by resettlement agencies, the kids were banned from playing on a grassy field in the local town park.

Part of the pic deal calls for Universal to pay $500,000 to build a soccer field for the kids. Part of the money will fund a foundation to benefit the team, and the dealmakers cut their fees so more of the coin would go to the teens.”

Source: Variety, 24 January 2007, Universal Buys Soccer Story.

Image courtesy of Nike.

In September 2007, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, they received a donation worth US $100,000 from Nike’s “Let Me Play” program.

” ‘We’ve struggled for years to have enough shin guards so this is incredible,’ said Luma Mufleh, head coach of the Fugees, 120 boys and girls on four soccer teams.”

How We Can Support the Fugees

Mark Fishkin, author of the Kin of Fish blog, and an Internet publishing executive, supports the Fugees Family.

“The notion that soccer could be such a positive influence in the lives of new Americans, and likewise the Georgia community around them, is such a compelling story, I’d imagine that most soccer fans would want to give to the Fugees Family in some way.”

To learn how to make a donation of money, sponsorship, volunteer time, or books for their literacy project, please click here.

Steve Amoia is the author and editor of World Football Commentaries. He writes for Soccerlens and Keeper Skool.

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