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Refugee advocate to speak at Commencement

Left: Luma Mufleh — “Coach Luma” to her soccer players — advocates for refugee families in America. Right: Mufleh will speak at Mills’ 124th Commencement. (Courtesy of Luma Mufleh and Mills Media Relations)

Luma Mufleh — or “Coach Luma” to the kids in her soccer program — will be speaking at Mills College’s 124th Commencement on May 12.

Mufleh is best known for founding a soccer team of refugee children from war-torn countries from around the globe. She became a celebrated civil rights advocate for immigrant families.

“Luma Mufleh is a role model who embodies Mills’ core values,” said Mills President Alecia DeCoudreaux. “Her story of dedication and courage will resonate with our students because it reflects the leadership skills and commitment to social justice that we foster at Mills.”

In 2004, the Jordanian-born Smith College alumna stopped her car to observe a group of immigrant children playing soccer in the streets of Clarkston, Georgia, and suddenly became inspired to start a team. In a city that has become a center for refugee resettlement, Mufleh rallied together players who came from countries plagued by conflict..

The kids relied on their coach for more than just soccer. According to NPR’s All Things Considered, Coach Luma was tough on the field. She made the players sign a contract, pledging they would not do drugs, wear saggy pants, or use bad language. Off the field, though, Mufleh was gentle and soft-spoken.

“It’s the only part of their day where they’re not criticized, where they’re not made fun of, where they don’t feel like they don’t belong,” Mufleh told NPR, adding, “You’ve got an hour and a half of practice where you are the best at what you do. And you know, they need that hour and a half every day.”

Her team, called the Fugees — short for refugees — faced strong opposition from local residents, a vast cultural divide, extreme poverty and post-traumatic stress issues.

But the Fugees and Mufleh persevered. Today, the soccer team has blossomed into a successful nonprofit, Fugees Family, Inc., that builds on the power of organized sports to help kids realize their full potential. Programming includes year-round soccer for four teams, an afterschool tutoring program, an academic enrichment camp and a private academy.

Opened in 2007, the Fugees Academy is the first privately funded school to exclusively serve and meet the unique needs of low-income refugee girls and boys in the United States.

Mufleh’s efforts to help the immigrant community didn’t end on the soccer field.

In 2004, she also founded Fresh Start, a cleaning service that rmploys immigrants and refugees, helping them to learn English, computer technology and other marketable skills. And in 2010, she began Queen Food Company, a food truck business featuring authentic, ethnic street food, employing parents and academy graduates.

“I feel as though Luma Mufleh’s presence on our campus will tie in themes about social justice so strongly supported at Mills,” said Senior Class President Jack Elliott. “A lot of seniors nominated women in politics, businesswomen and artists for our commencement speaker, and Luma kind of deals with all of those things. Her work with the community, especially, should be strongly looked at by Mills. She devotes her life to bettering other people’s lives.”

Fugees Family, the organization created by Mufleh, not only provides students with a sense of team work, but a dynamic environment to nurture students’ growth. (All photos courtesy of Fugees Family)


Mufleh’s organization focuses on academics just as much as athletics.
Mufleh is hands-on leading the pack.

Commencement Events

Mills College will celebrate its 124th Commencement on Saturday, May 12. The ceremony begins on Holmgren Meadow at 9:45 a.m. and ends at noon, with an academic procession of graduating students, alumni, faculty, Trustees, the President’s Cabinet and honored guests. The program will include remarks by President Alecia DeCoudreaux, a Commencement address by Luma Mufleh, student speakers and the conferring of degrees.

The traditional strawberry and champagne reception for graduates, alumni, faculty and guests follows the ceremony at the Art Museum Meadow.

This is also your chance to meet The Campanil staff and visit our office in Rothwell 157! Stop by after the ceremony for a little something to eat and drink.

Friday, May 11

12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Rehearsal Lunch — Student Union in Rothwell Center

1:30 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Mandatory College Senior Survey — Lisser Theatre

2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Commencement Rehearsal — Lisser Theatre

4:30 p.m. Baccalaureate — Chapel

Saturday, May 12

9:45 a.m. – Commencement Ceremony — Holmgren Meadow

12:15 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Champagne & Strawberry Reception – Art Museum Meadow

12:15 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Bent Twig Photo Session for Graduating Students and Alumnae Relatives – Art Museum Plaza