New York Times Writer to Discuss Book at Columbus State

 COLUMBUS, Ga. — A New York Times reporter who wrote the 2011 “common reading” for Columbus State University freshmen a book about how a woman organized refugee boys living in Georgia into a successful soccer team will speak at Columbus State Oct. 20.

Warren St. John, author of Outcasts United, will speak at 12:30 p.m. that Thursday in University Hall auditorium. His 2009 book recounts stories of children from several war-torn countries and the woman who seeks to make a difference in their lives. The lecture is free and open to the public.

 

The children, ages 9-17, were relocated to Clarkston, 13 miles east of Atlanta, in the 1990s, finding themselves culturally and socially isolated in their new hometown. That’s when Luma Mufleh stepped in, eventually becoming coach of the team she organized, the Fugees.

Born in Jordan, Mufleh came to the U.S. to attend college and never returned home. While coaching a girls soccer team through an Atlanta-area YMCA, she learned about the growing refugee community in Clarkston and floated the idea of starting a soccer program for the children. 

Mufleh forged a bond between the children and, eventually, the town’s citizens, who didn’t want them there in the first place. She took on anyone who stood in her way of providing a positive outlet for the children.

“She changed lives and taught people about adversity,” said Terry Irvin, coordinator of CSU’s First Year Experience program. “She gave these young boys structure, discipline and kept them out of harm’s way.”

Since Outcasts United was published, Mufleh has transformed her soccer coaching into a larger effort, leading a successful campaign to buy 18 acres where she hopes to see the first school especially built for refugee children in the U.S. Her fundraising efforts also resulted in player tutoring and scholarships that helped make it possible for several of her earlier players to now attend college.

Outcasts United, subtitled An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference, represents the third annual designated reading for all incoming freshmen to be followed by a lecture by the book’s author.

“The common reading program is a way to connect freshmen to scholarly activities and expose them to brand-new ideas they are not familiar with,” professor Irvin said.

St. John, a Times feature writer, first wrote about the Fugees for the New York newspaper in 2007. He’s also the author of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Journey into the Heart of Fan Mania, which Sports Illustrated named the best book of 2004 and the Chronicle of Higher Education put on its list best books ever about collegiate athletics.

St. John will sign books after the lecture. For more on his latest book, visit http://outcastsunited.com. For more on Mufleh’s continuing work with the Fugees, visit http://www.fugeesfamily.org/.

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Photo: Warren St. John, Outcasts United author