Outcasts United by Warren St. John, Spiegel and Grau, 2009, 320 pp, ISBN: 0385522037
If you are looking for an inspiring read, look no further. Outcasts United is easily the best piece of nonfiction I've read this year.
As some of you may remember, I actually started reading Outcasts United a month ago. I had planned to finish it in a weekend, but for some reason I just could not get into the story. After the first couple of chapters I left it to gather dust on the bottom shelf of our coffee table.
Thankfully, a few teachers at the high school where I work expressed an interest in using the book with their students. I agreed to create some discussion questions for the class and to arrange for a few relevant speakers to come in and talk with the kiddos. Of course, I also had to finish reading the book myself... After only reading a few more chapters, I was 100% hooked.
Outcasts United is a story of war, resilience, community, prejudice, friendship, and hope.
It is a story of families coming together, from around the world, in a desperate attempt to find peace.
It is a story of a small community, comfortable in their status quo, who was forced to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
It is a story about one woman on a mission.
It is a story about soccer.
It is a story you need to read.
Clarkston, Georgia had been described as a "sleepy little town by the railroad tracks." When it became an official refugee resettlement center in the 1990s, that sleepy little town exploded in a riot of culture, color, and language as it filled with refugees from war zones around the world. When Coach Luma moved there from Jordan in search of personal freedom, she ended up finding a group of refugee children who needed her just as much as she ultimately needed them. Through the support of the refugee families and her own personal determination, a soccer team was born.
I honestly cannot remember the last time that I read a story that touched me so deeply. In order to truly do justice to the individual stories of the refugee families, author Warren St. John spent considerable time getting to know each family he wrote about - eating with them, visiting in their homes, and watching lots and lots of soccer. The portraits that he paints of each family's struggle to survive in their home country, and then again of their struggles in America, are alternately heart-breaking and hope-filled.
Coach Luma Mufleh is truly a force of nature. I have read of very few women with her courage and fortitude. She inspired me to be a better educator and a better human being. At the same time, her coaching partner Tracy Ediger spoke eloquently about the impact that Luma has had:
"Putting Luma on a pedestal is counterproductive. Luma is really a normal person doing what she can for the people around her. If people can look at her and see that, that she's human, not a saint or a super-hero, and that she doesn't - can't - do everything or effect miracles, then maybe they can say to themselves, 'I need to look around myself and see my neighborhood, and what is going on here and five streets over, and what I can do in terms of investing myself and my time, to be present for the people around me, and to do something positive for change in my community."All I can really say is, I sincerely hope that you will read this book. It will change the way you look at the world. It will change the way you look at your neighbor. It will change you.
For more information:
- The Fugees
- Outcasts United
- One Maryland, One Book