Detroit News: Futsal tournament kicks off National Welcoming Week

September 13th, 2015
Austin Moir, Nick Prys and Sarah Starman on the futsal court they configured at Clark Park.

Nick Prys, with Southwest Solutions, and our Neighborhood Preservation Team spearheaded the initiative to put in futsal courts at Clark Park in southwest Detroit.

Read the article in the Detroit News:

Futsal tournament kicks off National Welcoming Week

by George Hunter, The Detroit News

Detroit — To Ali Harb, nothing breaks down cultural barriers like a brisk game of soccer — or a version of the game called “futsal” which is popular in crowded Latin American cities.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, Arab, Jewish or Latino; we can still get together and play a game,” said Harb, a 25-year-old Dearborn resident who recently celebrated his 4th year as an American citizen after immigrating from Lebanon. “We call it ‘the Beautiful Game’ because it brings people together from across the world.”

That spirit of inclusion was on display Sunday at Clark Park, where Global Detroit celebrated its fourth annual National Welcoming Week with its second futsal tournament. The games were played in the park’s ice arena.

The idea behind the event is to promote bonds between immigrants moving into a community and those who already live there, said Raquel Garcia Andersen, the organization’s director of partnerships and community outreach.

“We can work on policies to help immigrants, but what about just talking to neighbors and asking how we’re different, or how we’re the same?” she said. “Someone said the other day, ‘I don’t want to talk about race.’ Well, what’s wrong with talking about it? Let’s celebrate our differences, and the things that make us the same.”

Metro Detroit is home to nearly 400,000 immigrants from across the world, and Global Detroit provides help making life easier for the new arrivals, deputy director Sloan Herrick said.

“We help run the Welcoming Economies Global Network, which brings together organizations in 10 states across the Rust Belt to help immigrants acclimate to their communities,” she said. “It not only helps them, but it helps others who come after them. If you see your neighbor succeeding, it can inspire others.”

The services Global Detroit provide include help with writing resumes, learning English, and aid getting small business loans, and navigating steps toward starting a business, such as permits. The organization solicits help from local businesses and residents.

“This isn’t just for the immigrants; it’s also for what we call the ‘receiving community,’” Anderson said. “We want everyone to be involved in welcoming immigrants, and helping them become part of the community.”

One component of Global Detroit is the Cultural Ambassador Program, which connects immigrants with others in their professions, Herrick said. “We have volunteers who are rooted in the community, who help with resumes and making business contacts,” she said. “We ask them to open their Rolodexes and help connect each immigrant with three people.”
2015-0913-bb-Futsal190TBuy Photo

Friends and family cheer on athletes playing in the hard-fought championship game of the Futsal tournament between the Alley Boys and Google It. (Photo: Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)

Sunday’s event was part of Welcoming Week in Michigan, which this year was established by Gov. Rick Snyder for Sept. 12-20.

“Michigan is a state with a rich heritage of immigrants and their families contributing to make our state special,” Snyder said in a written statement. “It’s important for us to continue working to welcome people who come to our state, leveraging their full potential.”

Last year, Snyder established the Michigan Office for New Americans to attract and retain immigrants, and to promote entrepreneurship among the new arrivals.

“Immigrants have a reputation for taking jobs, but just as often they create jobs,” Herrick said. “Immigrants are three times more likely to start a business than native-born citizens. These are hard-working, talented people.”

Harb, a journalist for the Arab American News, said it would have been easier to assimilate into his community if he’d known such aid was available. “Southeast Michigan is a very welcoming place, but I had difficulty adjusting to the culture, the language — and the lack of soccer.”

Harb sheepishly admitted his team lost its futsal match 7-2. “It doesn’t matter — we came to play, not to win.”

One of his teammates overheard him and joked, “No, we came to win, and we lost. It’s embarrassing.”

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