CHICOPEE – The College of Our Lady of the Elms has announced that renowned soccer coach Luma Mufleh will deliver the convocation address on Sept. 30, 4 to 5:15 p.m. It will be open to the public.
Mufleh and her team, the Fugees, were the subject of the national bestselling book “Outcasts United,” author Warren St. John’s look at the team in the context of refugee integration issues in Clarkston, a once-sleepy Georgia hamlet that was upended by the process of refugee resettlement.
The Fugees are a team of refugee boys who fled harrowing experiences in Congo, Burundi, Sudan, Liberia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries; each boy’s escape to the U.S. came with challenges related to language, culture, race and more. Mufleh is the remarkable woman – and fellow immigrant – who has brought them together through their shared love of soccer. It’s a story about the challenges posed by our quickly changing world, one that reminds us of what is possible in this country when we put our values into action.
Mufleh’s story is a real-life example of the values Elms College instills in its students.
“We stress at Elms that one person can make a difference in the world,” the college’s president, Mary Reap, IHM, Ph.D., said. “Coach Mufleh is a wonderful example of how one person, with passion and resilience, can make a difference.”
“Outcasts United” has been selected as the college’s Common Read, part of the First Year Seminar (FYS) program. FYS helps new students get to know each other, connect with faculty and become part of the Elms community. The Common Read program is designed to provide all first-year students with a common intellectual experience centered around a theme of Catholic Social Teaching (CST); the goal is to encourage a sense of community among students, faculty and staff.
This year’s theme is solidarity, and the story of Mufleh and the Fugees will allow the students to explore the theme in relation to race, national origin, language, culture, economic status, religion, sport and other facets of human existence. The book challenges students to look at the ways in which people are the same, even while celebrating differences.
“The theme of solidarity reminds us all that we are one human family – whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences, and that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be,” Reap said.
Refugees are in the news these days, but the problems they face during and after relocation are not new.
“So many of the people I met in Clarkston – refugees, Luma, even the long-term residents, and especially a lot of the people who work in refugee resettlement – are looking for something: stability and safety, a sense of belonging to a larger community,” St. John said. “And in a way, that becomes the one thing that many people, even from very different backgrounds, have in common. The trick is opening enough of a conversation that strangers learn that about each other.”
Mufleh’s appearance at Elms will help open that kind of conversation on campus and in the community.
“In many ways, there are strong parallels between Clarkston and our local area,” Joyce Hampton, Ed.D., the dean of student success and strategic initiatives at Elms, said. “Like Clarkston, Western Massachusetts has been challenged with receiving a diverse population and understanding how best to welcome, educate and grow strong families.”
“Outcasts United” is available for purchase in the Elms College bookstore.