Last night, Ali (Amjad Abdalla) sent me the first photos of the Bedlam Farm Warriors, the RISSE soccer team, in their new uniforms (the kids picked the name, I didn't), and they looked snappy and powerful.
I did not ever imagine a sports team with uniforms that say "Bedlam Farm Warriors," but it did lift my heart.
The kids play some wealthy suburban teams, outmanned and with snazzy uniforms, expensive equipment, and the latest sneakers. So for the soccer team – students at RISSE, the immigrant and refugee center in Albany – the Army of Good bought new uniforms, complete with numbers and the team choose black and white as their colors.
I am unnerved at seeing the name of the farm on a sports team, but Ali was adamant, it was what they wanted. I am humbled by that.
We are looking for some indoor spaces for the team to practice in now that the season is ending.
We will help with that, this is a team of truly great spirits, loving and brave and kind to one another. They are a community within a community, and the team give these young people a safe and meaningful activity while they struggle with school and the arduous process of acclimation.
The soccer team is a pathway into America for these kids, they offer them the support and encouragement of their friends, while also teaching them confidence and leadership skills. Ali says the team also keeps them off of the streets. And these friendships will carry them into life.
Most of these young men (there is one woman on the team) are the children of refugees, they have been through a great deal and their lives are difficult. Their parents are often poor and hold more than one job.
The soccer team has great meaning for them. And Ali is completely devoted to them. Me too. I will do everything I can to support Ali and his work with these young people. I have come to know and love them myself.
They didn't need to call themselves the "Bedlam Farm Warriors," I am so glad they did. I loved seeing the photos Ali sent me, it make me proud of the work we are doing, and thanks to you for supporting the team.
(Note. Several people (some angry) have asked why there are not more women on the team. Two accused me of enabling or supporting sexism.)
Here's the reality: women are welcome to join the RISSE soccer team and several have. But there are enormous cultural differences between Americans and many refugees. They are not at ease playing sports with men. Over time, that will almost surely change. These kids love computing, for example, but computers were new to them when they came here.
I do appreciate the concern, especially these days, but I will not be a party to forcing my own cultural values on people who are new to America, and are adjusting to us. The women at RISSE are strong and powerful, they can and should make their own choices about their activities. RISSE does not prohibit women from any of its many activities.
The young women I have spoken with with say they and many of their parents are not yet comfortable in close contact sports involving males.
They are welcome to join the team anytime, but most prefer to form their own team, or follow their own interests. RISSE is considering a women's soccer team if there is interest. The women I have spoken with are not at ease with uniforms and competitions.
The Army of Good supports refugee and immigrant women in many ways, we help purchase household and individual needs, offer scholarships for classes and tutoring, sometimes help with clothes or toys or educational mater.
We have supported a score of women at RISSE buy insurance, manage loans, go on outings, pay tuition for their children. I photograph them and write about them, they are quite visible in this work here on the blog.
If you read the blog, you have seen and will see many women from RISSE.
I will continue to support the soccer team in any way possible, and I don't expect many more women on the team.
If you wish to help support the refugees and immigrants from RISSE, young and old, male and female, you can donate to Jon Katz/Refugee Fund, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, [email protected] Thanks)