Yes, the good people truly rule


So often we pick up the newspaper or turn on the television to read about and see horrific stories of child abuse and the hideous crimes of predators.

These stories revolt us, and our hearts reach out to the innocent victims and their families.

It is not difficult to become wary and lose sight of the fact that for every act of violence, many more individuals step into the lives of children with loving, non-exploitive and altruistic motives. We must protect our children and teach them from an early age how to recognize the unspeakable yet not to the extent of isolating them from positive and life-enhancing experiences.

An article that appeared on the front page of the New York Times on Sunday, Jan. 21, inspired me. The story and accompanying pictures told of a ragtag boys soccer team out of Clarkston, Ga. The team, whose name is Fugees — short for Refugees — was founded and has been coached by Luma Mulfleh, a recent graduate of Smith College, for the past three years.

At first, Mulfleh saw her job primarily as a coach, but it has become so much more. The players soon grew into her extended family, and as Mulfleh came to know their families, it was evident most lived from hand to mouth, often without basic necessities when the food stamps ran out.

The realization of how much the families were struggling enlarged the mission of the Fugees to include programs for education, housing and health. Clarkston is just outside of Atlanta and is home to refugees from countries throughout the world. People from Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq and Mexico live side by side. Children of different backgrounds, religions and ethnicities found a common bond in soccer, a sport often played on dirt fields throughout the world.

Hour after hour, the young refugees played with raw talent, passion and a determination to win. And win they have, with Mulfleh's coaching capturing hearts along the way.

Mulfleh requires a commitment of time from the players and a promise to not let schoolwork fall behind. Her players and their stories humble her.

"I continued to watch 'One Shoe' play. He didn't have a care in the world, playing on the soccer field, laughing and fooling around with the other kids. We ended practice an hour later.

"'One Shoe' came off the field, took off his sneaker, wiped it down carefully, putting in his backpack. He then put on his flip flops, preparing himself to walk two miles home.

"Before he left, he turned and said, 'See you tomorrow Coach.'"

These days, we do not read many uplifting stories such as that of the Fugees, but I do believe, despite what we often read in the newspapers, we have many such selfless people in our midst.

Our own local Mulflehs can be a local shoemaker, the person that cuts your hair, the school nurse or a yoga teacher; the list is endless. Over the years, I have made a habit of acknowledging and being grateful whenever such individuals cross my path.

As a young acting student in New York, I would often stop for lunch at an inexpensive place on 6th Avenue. I clearly remember a counter person at Bigelow's Apothecary in Greenwich Village; he had a continual dialogue with patrons.

One might come into the store feeling discouraged, self-absorbed and worn. An hour and a half later, and one grilled Swiss on rye, you walked out the door of Bigelow's, refreshed and ready to face the world. This man, whose name I never knew, left a positive claim on so many lives.

Similarly, the entire tenor of my brother's early life was warmed by serendipitous encounters. He set out for college with two cardboard boxes and $20. He got on a Greyhound bus at Port Authority and got out in Des Moines, Iowa.

He hitched a ride to the Drake University — a school we picked out for him randomly because I knew some actors in the Midwest — and was taken to the registrar. He had no money to make tuition payments, and, rather than say "Go home, boy," this registrar gave him some places to look for a job and a tuition payment schedule.

The first place he went to was the school cafeteria that was not opened yet. The registrar must have made a call because he was immediately hired as a dishwasher.

During the two years he attended Drake, he sold underwear to farmers, taught Sunday school at the local synagogue and worked at a hardware store. The technical director in his theater program saw his talent and encouraged him to transfer to a larger department at Ohio University where he worked with the famous Broadway set designer Howard Bay, who provided the next helping hand.

Mr. Bay encouraged my brother to apply to Brandeis University in its first graduate program in technical theater he was establishing. My brother's years of success in theater, films and television had their roots in the helping hand of well-intended individuals.

Quite honestly, I could go on and on with examples of individuals who make positive contributions to the life of others. Focus on these people and less attention to the evil ones might make for a better world.

Certainly, a shift in attention from gruesome crimes to soccer teams such as the one started by Mulfleh would be a step in the right direction.