Happy news on the refugee front, in Clarkston

By Guest Columnist JILL ROBBINS, chief program officer for the non-profit Soccer in the Streets

Judging from the headlines, you’d think there’s no such thing as happy news on the refugee front. As someone who works directly with refugee kids in Clarkston, I can tell you there is so much more to the story. I see happiness in the faces of refugee kids every day in my role as chief program officer for Soccer in the Streets, where I have worked in youth development for more than 20 years.

Hopefully, soccer team can help unite fractured DeKalb County

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The Atlanta United soccer franchise plans to build its headquarters and $35 million training facility in DeKalb County. The DeKalb County Commission voted to approve the agreement with Atlanta United FC. It would involve a $12 million investment by the county. Credit Atlanta United

The Atlanta United soccer franchise plans to build its headquarters and $35 million training facility in DeKalb County. The DeKalb County Commission voted to approve the agreement with Atlanta United FC. It would involve a $12 million investment by the county.
Credit Atlanta United

The new Atlanta United soccer franchise announced Tuesday that it had chosen DeKalb County for its headquarters and $35 million training facility. The DeKalb Commission voted earlier that day to approve the agreement with Atlanta United FC, one that would involve a $12 million investment by the county.

“Finally, something good is happening in DeKalb County.”

That’s what someone told me after the 4-3 vote by the DeKalb County Commission, approving an agreement with Atlanta United to locate its headquarters near the intersection of Memorial Drive and I-285.

That joy was short-lived.

A day later, former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers, who had been hired by DeKalb’s CEO Lee May to investigate possible corruption in the county, proclaimed that DeKalb was “rotten to the core.”

What a juxtaposition of highs and lows for Georgia’s fourth-largest county.

In recent years, several of DeKalb’s top officials have been indicted and found guilty of various ethical and legal breeches. It is a far cry from the DeKalb that existed 20 and 30 years ago when it was run by Manuel Maloof and Liane Levetan, both respected and powerful leaders in the region.

DeKalb leaders had hoped that the county’s tides were turning by winning the highly competitive Atlanta United headquarters.

On the day of the press briefing announcing the deal, the mood was uplifting, and team owner Arthur Blank, a co-founder of Home Depot, even became nostalgic about the decision. It was June 22, 1979, when Home Depot opened its very first store across the street from where Atlanta United plans to develop a 3,500-seat stadium and three additional soccer fields.

“It has come full circle,” Blank said, reflecting over his career. You see, for Blank, his investment in Atlanta’s Major League Soccer franchise is personal and close to his heart. He attended the event with his son, Joshua, an avid soccer fan and talented player.

Perhaps Atlanta United’s decision will improve the perception of a fractured DeKalb County and spark economic development in the Memorial Drive corridor.

But that may be too much to ask.

The county continues to be divided between North and South. Even the vote on the soccer facility was split, with the white commissioners voting against it, and the black commissioners voting for it.

It is too bad that the Atlanta United soccer franchise, located in “Central” DeKalb, has not yet united the county.

But as Blank said, the decision to base the soccer team at that location, felt like a spiritual journey for him, a coming home.

Let’s hope DeKalb’s journey will fuse a divided county into a united DeKalb.


Atlanta’s new soccer team could be symbol for unity

Original Story on WABE By MARIA SAPORTA
Soccer fans still have to wait about a year and a half before they will be able to go to a match to see Atlanta’s pro team at the new downtown stadium. But when owner Professional soccer is heading to Atlanta, and fans are ready.  Arthur Blank officially unveiled the team’s new name – Atlanta United FC – and its new logo at a rowdy event Tuesday, and the crowd of 4,000 fans could not have been more excited!

When it comes to sports in Georgia, frenzy is usually associated with college football or NASCAR … maybe the Falcons, the Hawks or the Braves.

But soccer?

Well all that is beginning to change.

Soccer is already the most popular game in the world, and now it is solidly taking hold in Atlanta. We just have a team name and a logo, yet we don’t even have any players.

But the thousands of Atlanta fans who recently showed up at SOHO Lounge in west Midtown to see Blank and Don Garber — commissioner of Major League Soccer — were cheering so loudly, you would have thought we had just won a championship.

Garber was so pumped! He talked about how the new America is discovering soccer, adding, “This new America is right here in Atlanta.”

Some may think the name, Atlanta United, is boring. But Blank said that focus group after focus group suggested the theme of Atlanta was all about unity and coming together.

He looked around at the generational, ethnic and racial diversity of the people who gathered for the announcement and said, “This is Atlanta.”

He knew that was why the new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons and the Atlanta United belonged in the heart of the city.

“Urban downtown stadiums are so exciting because they are attracting the people who are here tonight,” Blank said.

When the Georgia Dome hosted the soccer match between Mexico and Nigeria in March 2014, we witnessed the multicultural energy of that new America, of that new Atlanta.

Centennial Olympic Park and all of downtown had been transformed into our own United Nations. Yes, this is the future.

As one leader told me at the time … the Atlanta Braves are going to realize that their decision to move to Cobb County was so last century.

Thank you, Arthur Blank, for bringing professional soccer to the heart of the city and for uniting Atlanta in the 21st century.


In Africa, former Atlantan helps kids One World Futbol at a time

For a couple of weeks in 1996, Sandra Cress helped bring the world of soccer to Atlanta. Today she lives in Nairobi and is helping children around the world live healthier lives through one tough soccer ball that stays round when they kick it.

The standard soccer balls used across Atlanta suburbs don’t stand a chance in the thorns, glass and barbed wire of the developing world. There, kids create makeshift balls of rags or whatever they can find. Cress said she saw kids kicking a ball made of old fruit taped together.

The virtually indestructible One World Futbol, made of a hard foam similar to that in Crocs sandals, has already transformed Cress’ world and should inspire anyone with deep knowledge, contacts and enthusiasm that do not seem to fit in the present job market. The indestructible ball offered Cress an opportunity to come full circle in her passion for soccer and expertise in humanitarian aid.