Outcasts United by Warren St. John was a New York Times article maybe last year, covering the town of Clarkston, Georgia, where refugees from Africa and the Middle East settle in the broke parts of town. This woman came in and started a soccer league, which improved the boys’ English, academic performance, and behavior, gave them a place where they could belong. There’s one section of the article that details the Coach being pulled over in her Honda for a broken tail light and getting arrested. The team, witnessing the event from the school bus ahead of her, started freaking out, since many of them had firsthand experiences with family being taken away by police and never being heard from again. It’s an INCREDIBLE article, and I found myself choked up on the subway and incredibly inspired when I read it. The piece hit home for a lot of people, and soon a book and film contract were in the works.
Thankfully, the book doesn’t suck!!! Hooray!!! It doesn’t quite have the emotional oomph of the article, probably because it has the space to explore a more complicated portrait of the community and the players, but it does an excellent job of contextualizing the backgrounds of the refugee families and the different politics of this small town, conflicted about helping this significant immigrant community they did not ask for. I loved the book.
It really inspired my friend Nancy to think about ways she could volunteer and make a difference. For me?…Uh, I’m lazier, I think. The article definitely make me want to start a soccer team or adopt a kid, but the book was just something I was content to observe and enjoy.