The city of Clarkston is located about ten miles northeast of Atlanta, Ga. In 1980, the town’s population was 90 percent white, but that soon changed – and fast. An abundance of inexpensive housing and Clarkston’s proximity to Atlanta were two key factors why the town became, in the late 1980s, a resettlement hub for refugees from the world’s most troubled corners: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Kosovo, Liberia, Somalia and Sudan.
“From 1996 to 2001, more than 19,000 refugees from around the world resettled in Georgia,” according to Warren St. John, author of “Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, An American Team” (Spiegel & Grau; Amazon). “Some have endured unimaginable hardship to get here: squalor in refugee camps, separation from siblings and parents. One saw his father killed in their home.”
A reporter with The New York Times, St. John was intrigued by the inherent tension between the newly arriving refugees and the residents of Clarkston. He chose to tell this modern-day American immigration story through three boys’ youth soccer teams formed from the teenage talent of the refugee families. They decided to name themselves The Fugees.
A good chunk of St. John’s book focuses on the extraordinary efforts of coach Luma Mufleh, herself an immigrant from Jordan, to keep the youth soccer program afloat. She faces unique challenges, including language, cultural, and religious differences among her own charges. And, in the course of the book, St John recounts how she faces her own demons.
This is St. John’s second book. His previous work, “Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey into the Heart of Fan Mania,” was his personal account of following the die-hard, tailgating corps of University of Alabama football fans.
SportsLetter interviewed St. John by phone from his home in New York City.
–- David Davis