Outcasts United by Warren St. John

Outcasts United tells the story of Clarkston, Georgia, a small southern town just outside of Atlanta. Once a quiet, mostly white town with little going on, Clarkston was quickly changed when a refugee resettlement program brought in an influx of foreigners.

Luma Al-Mufleh, a woman born into a well off family in Jordan, found that living the strict, structured life of the Muslim woman and decided to remain in the United States after college. Her family, furious with her decision, cut her off completely. Left to fend for herself, Luma struggled to find her place for herself and eventually stumbled into Clarkston where she saw a group of refugee boys playing soccer. So she started a soccer program for the boys, including mandatory tutoring sessions for anyone who wanted to play. Luma, a strict coach, demanded the best of her players and expected them to put in the time, effort, and energy required to succeed in the sport. But she was much more than a coach to the boys. She became friends with their families, began helping them in life off the field as much as on.

The team was a positive element in the lives of boys who’d experienced so much tragedy, but it wasn’t easy. Clarkston was not prepared for the scores of people who were moved into the town without many skills, without any idea of American culture, and often, without the ability to speak English. Many people were resentful of the changes being forced on them without any say on the matter. The boys were banned from using the town’s all-purpose field, the explanation being that it was a baseball exclusive field. Of course, the fact that there were no baseball leagues in the town was irrelevant.

The story is an interesting and inspiring one. One of my only problems with the book is that it is written like a report or a newspaper article. This is to be expected, as the writer, Wallace St. John worked (works?) for the New York Times (and wrote three articles about the team while doing research for the book). He goes into depth about the histories of the places where the boys come from and really gets to the heart of their stories, but the reporter style made it a little difficult to get engrossed in the book.

The other thing I disliked was that the author was very analytical. He didn’t seem to trust that the reader could draw the lesson or connection from a story he wrote. This is the same problem that the author of a sports memoir we are agenting has. You do not need to say the following things happened and from that I learned this,” let the story do the explaining. It’s clear that a church that integrated the refugees is an example of some people accepting the refugees, so you do not need to say “and this was an example of the refugees being accepted.”

To read more about the boys’ stories you can check out their site: outcastsunited.com.

Read the book here: Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference

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