Of Small Town, Refugees, and Soccer

Today’s New York Times contains an article about a Clarkston, Georgia soccer team called The Fugees. The team is made up entirely from refugees who have relocated to the Clarkston area. The article discusses the coach, Luma Mufleh, a remarkable woman who put together the team and who has become not only a coach, but a friend to the Fugees and their families.

The article paints an interesting picture of small-town Clarkston, and the politics of immigration and a rapidly-changing population in the town; It seems Clarkston mirrors the questions our country as a whole has about the immigration issue. Many long-time residents are resentful of the newer residents, and the battle the Fugees have had just to find a safe place to practice speaks to the difficulties of immigrants and refugees all over our country.

According to the article, Clarkston’s mayor, Lee Swaney, outlawed soccer in the town park where the Fugees were practicing. He later revoked that ruling, and allowed them to play there for six more months. The Fugees can practice there until March. Mufleh is currently searching for a suitable practice area come March.

This is ridiculous: I’m hoping that Clarkston being highlighted in the Times will light a fire under her leaders. These kids have a powerful and positive influence in Ms. Mufleh, and in the game of soccer itself. They aren’t going anywhere. How can Clarkston afford not to support and help these kids?

31 Comments so far

  1. Andisheh Nouraee (unregistered) on January 21st, 2007 @ 6:13 pm

    A remarkable story that:

    a) Makes me want to donate some cash to the team.
    b) Makes me want to work very hard to defeat that mayor in the next election.

    To deny those kids access to the park for soccer is racial and ethnic bigotry. Would “Old Clarkston” feel like the their parks were “overrun” if they were filled with white-skinned children? Certainly not.

  2. Tim (unregistered) on January 21st, 2007 @ 8:20 pm

    I wonder how Mr. Mayor would feel if the people playing the world’s most popular sport in his park were white? That does happen after all. Like, what about Clint Mathis or Josh Wolff (both suburban Atlanta natives).

  3. Atlantan (unregistered) on January 21st, 2007 @ 9:33 pm

    Great movie playing at Midtown Theatre on Monroe – “God Grew Tired of Us.” It’s about the Lost Boys and follows a group that moves to America. The best line of the movie, when a Lost Boy show the interviewer the groceries that he purchased, “This is called Pepsi. In Africa we call it Coca-Cola.”

    Hurry, it’s only playing this week!

  4. Chris (unregistered) on January 21st, 2007 @ 10:34 pm

    I think we should give the mayor a break. The city has undergone a humongous change from this huge influx of immigrants, and he’s trying to cool everyone down. Nobody knows what to make of all these immigrants, and lots of people are afraid. After 10 or 20 years, it’ll all blow over.

  5. jake (unregistered) on January 21st, 2007 @ 11:43 pm

    Americans are racist dumbasses.

  6. Andisheh Nouraee (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 10:27 am

    Cool it on the mayor? Are you kidding? By banning soccer in the park (not once, but twice) he’s pandering to racists who resent seeing dark skin and hearing foreign languages when they go to the park. He doesn’t really try to hide that fact. Would “Old Clarkston” feel like their parks were “overrun” if, instead of refugee kids playing soccer it was American-born white kids. Of course not.

    Refugees are in the United States legally. They work, they pay taxes. If kids are playing soccer in the park instead of baseball, the mayor needs to spend $50 on white paint and make it a proper soccer field.

    The mayor of Clarkston has a choice between helping a kid’s soccer team or pandering to racists. He has repeatedly chosen to pander to the racists.

  7. Andisheh Nouraee (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 10:31 am

    Here’s Mayor Swaney’s contact info, as printed on Clarkston’s web site:

    Mayor Lee Swaney
    Phone: 404-296-6489
    Fax: 404-296-6480
    Email: mayor@cityofclarkston.com

  8. Deborah Aziz (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 10:45 am

    Two things: 1) the kids have a website http://www.fugeesfamily.org/ where you can donate as well as adopt a family.

    2) I agree that banning soccer by the mayor was stupid and wrong but the article also points out that he has tried to do right for the refugees in other ways, such as hiring a new police chief and ordering him to get ride of any officers who target the refugees. So he isn’t a totally bad guy. Plus part of the problem has nothing to do with the refugees per se but everything to do with life in a small town, too many programs and not enough resources. If there are going to be baseball and football programs, they do need a place to play. I moved from a small town and we had the same problem until the county built a new sports complex. Until then the soccer teams had to play on the softvball fields due to a lack of space.

  9. New Clarkston (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 2:01 pm

    Lee Swaney = Worst Mayor Ever. Not just for banning soccer but for his loose affiliation with the truth, for raising taxes to offset a deficit which he then ignores the existance of, for ignoring resident concerns on an ongoing basis and for initiating the city’s war against dogs.

  10. Annie (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

    Great comments, everyone. I am glad to hear that everyone is as concerned as I am. I just hope that these kids have an easier time of it from here on on out.

  11. New Yorker (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 4:00 pm

    I live in New York, and my wife works in the film business as a book and story scout. Last night she read the article and said this is great material for a movie.

    Sure enough, today, the film world–or at least the people in charge of acquiring stories for film–are all abuzz over this story, and offers are going to fly.

  12. Annie (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 4:44 pm

    New Yorker – very interesting, and not that surprising. It is a great story. i think, too, that as a native Atlantan, i find that this story is really representative of the growing pains and clash of different worlds that we see here in Atlanta day in and day out. I do not see that as a good or bad thing, just as a reality of living in a transient and modern city in the middle of the South.

    Anyway, i would definitely see a movie about this story. . . .

  13. sean (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 5:05 pm

    so, Ms. Nouraee, is the black resident quoted in the story with misgivings about the refugees a bigot as well?

    the town went from having no immigrants to being 50% immigrant in 15 years. that’s a huge change, and brings with it tons of challenges. I support legal immigration – in fact I think we should take more folks in – but yelling ‘racist’ at anyone who doesn’t think this is an unalloyed good (such as the black resident quoted in the story) is silly. it also gives cover to actual racists.

    that said, I’d let them play soccer in the park too.

  14. twnkltz (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 7:55 pm

    umm, Andisheh is a dude. Just so you know.

  15. Andisheh Nouraee (unregistered) on January 22nd, 2007 @ 8:53 pm

    Ms. Sean-

    The article isn’t about the “challenges” of immigration. It’s about bigots who don’t seem to understand that the park belongs to all residents of Clarkston, including refugee kids who play soccer.

    I’m not yelling “racist” at just “anyone”. I’m saying that the Mayor’s efforts to keep the kids from playing soccer in the park are racist. He pretty much admits it. I’m also saying that perceiving a crowded park as “overrun” just because the people in it are Muslim, or African or both, is racist. There’s no gray area in the story. The refugee community in Clarkston is entitled to use the parks.

    If the Mayor of Clarkston or anyone else looking for an honest solution to the “challenges” immigration poses for Clarkston’s playing fields, he’d buy a calendar and have the soccer alternate days with the baseball and football kids.

  16. Elizabeth Galindo Wright (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2007 @ 1:17 pm

    It brought tears to my eyes to read the article written in the NY Times “Outcasts United”.
    I believe Mayor Swaney needs a refresher course in the history of the United States and should read the “Declaration of Indendence” out loud to his city council, as well as looking up the meaning of the words Mercy, Compassion and Kindness. Elizabeth Galindo

  17. Jim V. (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2007 @ 7:23 pm

    I blogged about this article at almost exactly the same time as Annie. I think it’s the best feature story I’ve read in a long time…no close second.

    My initial reaction was nearly identical to Ms. Nouraree’s (whom I understand to be an educated Muslim woman.) I will confess that when I read the word that the Fugees were facing the “mostly overachievers” from “the well-to-do Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta” I audibly cursed and braced myself to get angrier…then I read about how they were sponsoring a player at significant expense and effort to themselves.

    I don’t doubt for a minute that the same soccer mom’s who sponsor Jorge voted for Alpharetta’s own, upscale, version of Lee Swaney. I also suspect that selling out a group of kids, may be the political cost of getting a police chief who doesn’t harass their parents.

    I loved the article, because it captured the one truth of life in Atlanta: people are complicated, and ususally better than their most retrogressive beliefs.

  18. Annie (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2007 @ 7:39 pm

    Jim V. – If you’re gonna reference your post about this story, for God’s sake, give us a link. Pretty please. We would like to know what you think.

  19. Jim V. (unregistered) on January 23rd, 2007 @ 9:07 pm

    Actually, I really didn’t say too much about the article, other than to excerpt it and link to it and the Fugees Family website. I sort of like my comments here better. :)

  20. james (unregistered) on January 24th, 2007 @ 11:09 am

    i can’t believe i am about to say this, but, i find myself in complete agreement with jim v’s reaction to this story.

  21. Annie (unregistered) on January 24th, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

    I thought the exact same thing, James. Awww. . . I think we need a Jim, James, Annie group hug! MetHugs!

  22. Andisheh Nouraee (unregistered) on January 24th, 2007 @ 6:11 pm

    How’s this for an unexpected twist to this story — the Fugees story is apparently going to be a movie. check andy2000.org for details.

  23. Jim V. (unregistered) on January 24th, 2007 @ 9:14 pm

    How cool is that! The only sad thing is that Barnard Hughes didn’t live to play Mayor Swaney. Seymour Cassel maybe?

    Annie and james, I’m glad this story could unite us. I’m sure I’ll be back to annoying you guys soon enough.

  24. Annie (unregistered) on January 25th, 2007 @ 9:35 am

    Thanks for the tip, Andisheh. Looks like New Yorker’s wife was dead-on.

    Jim – You never really annoyed me. I enjoy your comments. I think it was James and me who annoyed you, wasn’t it?

  25. zlocke (unregistered) on January 27th, 2007 @ 12:53 am

    Andisheh, I appreciate your militant stance. I like to read you in the CL. But you’re way, WAY off base on this.

    Clarkston is an extremely diverse town. More than probably any other in the state of Georgia. The VAST majority of people in Clarkston are non-white.

    If the people on this blog would stop playing the racism card or stop being liberal elitists and just look at the demographics they will quickly see what the problem is.


    The nonprofit organizations who resettle refugees in Clarkston because it was previously so friendly to refugee settlement, are outstripping Clarkston’s ability to provide services to its residents. It has one of the lowest median incomes in the vicinity. Just bring yourself to Clarkston and walk around, then go down the street to Decatur or over to Tucker and compare.

    The VAST majority of the taxes are paid by property owners who see their taxes raised to deal with the city deficit. And the rest of us who live on the borders and don’t need anything at all from Clarkston risk being annexed for the simple reason that we don’t live in apartments.

    Here’s where the liberal elitism comes in for those of you who don’t live in Clarkston.

    NONE OF YOU would stand by and let your communities suffer this kind of fiscal and demographic situation and continue allowing nonprofit organizations to funnel refugees, who need services from state and local government into your communities. But because the story makes you feel good and you get a little tear in your eye, you insist that the working class people of Clarkston pay ever higher taxes and get ever lower property values so that YOU can feel good about being egalitarian. As a liberal, I get sick of seeing liberals do that kind of s&*t. Save people? YES! Stack them all in one little town with no tax base? NO.

    Send them to Cobb county. Then you’ll see what racism is. Otherwise stop crying wolf.

  26. Annie (unregistered) on January 27th, 2007 @ 9:30 am

    ZLocke – Great comments. I definitely see your point from the standpoint of taxpayers about to buckle under the pressure. I can’t speak to that, but I still don’t see how banning a bunch of kids from using a park is going to save money for Clarkston. Really, this story is so interesting to me because this must be occurring in small towns all over the country.

  27. zlocke (unregistered) on January 27th, 2007 @ 10:23 am

    Thanks Annie,
    Actually I was really suspicious of this story the moment that I read it because it never really addressed the REAL issues in Clarkston. So I kept searching and lo and behold found this link:


    I’ve had experience with NY Times reporters making stuff up before and I think that this story is just another smoke and mirrors hatchet job that the NY Times cooked up because it makes for a good story.

    A bit of truth here, a quote taken out of context, the plucky protagonists put down by the nasty mayor and rallied by the heroic coach (who I’ve met on multiple occasions and didn’t find to be a pleasant or even nice person,…but I guess she’s good with kids) all come together to make everyone feel good. But in the end not only does it not do anything to help the city of Clarkston deal with its real problems, but it exacerbates the situation.

    Does anyone think that a movie about the mean ol’ city of Clarkston is going to help raise already depressed property values here, or increase the tax base, or calm any tensions between property owners and apartment dwellers–which is where the real problem is?

    I doubt it. We’re already thinking about selling.

  28. Annie (unregistered) on January 27th, 2007 @ 11:04 am

    Thanks for the link, Z. I am going to credit you and put it in its own post. Very interesting stuff.

  29. Annie (unregistered) on January 28th, 2007 @ 11:10 am
  30. james (unregistered) on January 28th, 2007 @ 7:24 pm

    “If the people on this blog would stop playing the racism card or stop being liberal elitists”

    damn. that may be the first and last time i am ever accused of being a liberal….

  31. Annie (unregistered) on January 29th, 2007 @ 12:32 am

    Ha! Me, too. OR an elitist. That is completely new. . . .

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