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Inspiring ‘Crawford 18’ teach us about far more than football

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They’re The Crawford 18, a group of kids scattered by the global winds who found purpose and passion through a game rooted in American soil.

They’re from Somalia and Vietnam, Mexico and Cambodia, linked by blocking and tackling. They help form the fabric of a high school that speaks, at last count, more than 50 languages — a fascinating soup of faces, dialects and world views.

In shoulder pads, they’re all Colts.

And despite being undersized, outgunned, resource challenged, with almost no collective history or boyhood experiences in football, The Crawford 18 stand a logic-defying 3-0.

If sports teaches lessons, what is Crawford High School teaching us?

“For these kids to be 3-0, it’s answering that call of disbelief,” said Kelcie Butcher, Crawford’s tireless athletic director. “How is this group of kids, boys who’ve never played football before they got to high school, who are duct-taping their shoes together, doing this? Really? We think they’re going to compete?

“It’s answering that with, yeah, we can compete.”

Crawford’s football team reveals the most compelling truths about underdogs and stacked odds and perseverance measured in heart and sweat.

The program has played without a home field for three seasons, piling into buses over and again for two-hour trips into the desert. Until last season, the team wiggled into shoulder pads purchased in 2001. Week after week, opponents routinely plant at least twice as many players on their sideline.

Eight of the Colts start on both sides of the ball. Five or six almost never come off the field. Wide receiver and safety Ali Musa, who has generated interest from Dixie State, also returns punts and kickoffs. He’s missed all of a half-dozen plays in 144 minutes of football.

Running back and linebacker Keyshawn Dante Walker has missed even fewer plays — two at last count.

“It takes heart, like a lot of it,” Walker said. “If you have heart, you can play both ways.”

The most meaningful rewards in life require obstacles and patience. They demand struggle and crushing failure, stiff-armed.

The Colts nearly lost football in 2012, coach Mike Wright’s first season. When he stepped onto the practice field, 16 kids looked back at him. That wasn’t nearly enough to field a varsity and junior-varsity team.

The season before, the Colts finished 1-9. The season before that: winless after forfeiting the final four games because of a lack of players.

“The athletic director came to me at the time and said, if we don’t get this fixed, we’re either going to cancel the season or go to only a JV season or go to eight-man,” Wright recalled. “I said, ‘Give me two days and let me see what I can do.’

“I went to the streets. I went to the phone books. I got as many kids as I could.”

Wright pieced together another 18 kids to keep Crawford’s football heartbeat alive. The following season, the Colts won a school-record 12 games.

On Oct. 20, the team finally will play on its home field, an identity-building, ours-forever place after suiting up for “home” games at Hoover and Lincoln. This is what The Crawford 18 waited for, worked for, longed for.

“I’ve been doing this for three and a half years now, finding practice fields, playing on the road and riding a yellow bus,” Wright said. “I’m seeing yellow in my dreams.

“I’m sure I’m going to have a giant smile and the hairs on my arms are going stand up. I might have a couple of tears even. Who knows? It’s going to be pretty intense.”

Crawford’s campus courtyard feels like a little like a Benetton ad, without the crass commercialization. Navigating all those languages and family backgrounds means it’s tricky to sell yearbooks or convince parents to pry precious dollars to attend a Friday football game.

Diversity is Crawford’s challenge, as well as its strength.

Butcher sees Somali signs in the neighborhood surrounding the school. She can tell you that those who speak a tongue known as Karen come from an area nestled inside of Burma. She understands the complexity of Farsi amid the field goals.

Alex, I’ll take World Languages for $400.

“The diversity on this campus fluctuates on what’s happen in the global scheme of things,” Butcher said. “Right now, there’s a lot of unrest in Tanzania and the Congo, so we’re getting a lot of refugees from that part of the world.

“It ebbs and flows. You can see what areas are having major issues by what types of students start to enroll here.”

The list of languages Butcher quickly cobbled together during a 10-minute scan of the 1,130-member student body covers two and a half pages.

Point to something on a page, like Kizigua, and Butcher connects the dots.

“Those kids are from Kenyan refugee camps,” she said. “It’s a tribal dialect.”

Acclimating all of those divergent worlds to simply exist and move forward at one school proves challenging. Toss the job of building a football program among students with little long-term connection to the sport, well, is something else altogether.

The results, though, have been nothing short of remarkable.

“We like to call ourselves a melting pot,” said Niko Perry, a senior running back and linebacker. “We accept everybody. Our team isn’t driven by winning. Our drive is to prove ourselves.

“… I think I’d be a little lost without football. The football team is everything to me. It’s like my second family. Everyone is, like, connected. We’re all brothers.”

The more you listen, the more you realize football allows The Crawford 18 to teach us some life lessons along the way.

Walk around Crawford with Butcher, the school’s relentless, smiling glue, and you begin to understand the critical importance of maintaining and nourishing these teams.

A girl bounces toward her with a sheet of paper with signatures. She wants to play volleyball. “Can I participate now?”

Butcher smiles and, without saying a word, offers a high-five. The girl glows.

It’s so hard to keep up at Crawford. It’s so essential that they do.

“It’s very overwhelming,” said Butcher, revealing moist, pink eyes. “Sometimes I feel like I’m pulling teeth. But when you get kids to be involved, that’s what keeps you going.

“When you see the look on their face when they walk in and they’ve gone from a C to an A on their math test because they did extra tutoring. And they’re beaming because they actually did it. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

That’s why football at Crawford, on life support just before this class of seniors had the chance to step on the field, means so much in a place where the game used to mean absolutely nothing.

“In spite of the fact that we haven’t had a home field for three years, in spite of the fact that we’ve been practicing on a field that’s rutted with gopher holes, in spite of the fact that we don’t have kids that come to us with Pop Warner experience, this group of boys and coaches are able to put something together,” Butcher said.

Something worldly and wonderful.

Crawford Aims for 4-0

The Crawford High School football team started last season 3-0 before falling to El Cajon Valley. The team failed to win a game the rest of the season.

Coach Mike Wright said this senior-dominated team is stronger as it again takes a 3-0 record into Friday’s matchup with El Cajon.

The Colts, with a core varsity roster consisting of just 18 players, will benefit from the return of its top defender. Jaden Sanders, who led the league in tackles last season, makes his season debut after sitting out because of injury.

The kickoff at Hoover High is scheduled for 4 p.m., because lights will not be available for the game.

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UK

LONDON: Crowd pickets Wormwood Scrubs demanding justice following death of inmate

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GET WEST LONDON — More than two weeks on from the fatal stabbing of a young man in his Wormwood Scrubs prison cell a large crowd gathered outside the Shepherd’s Bush institution to protest.

Khader Ahmed Sahel, 25, was of Somali origin and his sudden death on January 31 has shocked and angered a tight knit community who believe it could have been prevented.

On Thursday (February 15) Khader’s mother, Amima Duleah, and his older brother, Said Yusuf, both from Northolt, Ealing, were among those to picket the prison’s gates in Du Cane Road, demanding justice.

Following his death Khader’s 20-year-old wife Salma has been left to bring up their two-year-old son, Ahmed, alone.

Speaking to getwestlondon Mr Yusuf, 29, described the last time he visited his brother in prison, he said: “His state was a bit bad, you could see the violence from his body – he’d been in fights inside

“He was mentioning that there was no safety inside and that there was neglect from the guards.

“He was scared inside the prison – for his life.”

He added: “We want justice for him and we would like for this prison to either be closed or to be fixed so this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

The protest was organised by Somali campaigning group Gaashaan, which has set up a petition asking the Ministry of Justice to combat the issue of violence in prisons and reassess the safety of inmates in institutions across the country.

Speaking to getwestlondon, Gaashaan leader Sahel Ali said: “We are coming together to protest against the brutal stabbing of an inmate of Somali ethnic background, Khader Sahel.

“Khader was 25 years old, he was at the beginning of his life, he left behind a family and a child.”
Salma Hassan, has been widowed aged 20 after her husband was fatally stabbed in Wormwood Scrubs prison on January 31 (Image: Salma Hassan)

He added: “There is nothing wrong with locking up people who commit crimes or break the law of the land but what we are unhappy, angry about and against is that people’s safety inside jails has been compromised.

“And this happened a month after a report was published highlighting a surge in prison violence – that is what people are angry about today.”

A prison inspection in December revealed a high surge in violence on top of chronic staff shortages and lack of food at Wormwood Scrubs.

Following the report Chief Inspector of Prisons Peter Clarke said it painted “an extremely concerning picture.”

Wormwood Scrubs inmates Ahmed Khayre, 21, Enton Marku, 20, and Khalif Dibbassey, 21, all appeared at the Old Bailey charged with Mr Saleh’s murder on Tuesday (February 6).

The Recorder of London, Nicholas Hilliard QC, remanded all three defendants in custody.

Dutch national Mr Khayre, of HMP Belmarsh, British national Mr Marku, of HMP Wandsworth, and French national Mr Dibbassey, of HMP High Down, will return to court for a plea and trial preparation hearing on April 24.

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Canada

Canada’s institutions repeatedly failed former child refugee Abdoul Abdi

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The ethical case to fight the deportation of former child refugee Abdoul Abdi from Canada is a straightforward one with no visible shades of grey.

Yet it has ballooned into a needless battle exposing federal and provincial indifference to non-citizen children.

On Feb. 15, a Federal Court will hear an emergency request to temporarily stop Abdi’s deportation.

The broad strokes of Abdi’s story are these.

Instability was the only constant in the life of this man, born 24 years ago in Saudi Arabia to a Saudi father and Somali mother. He lived for four years at a refugee camp in Djibouti and then at age 6 landed in Canada along with his sister and aunts.

At age 8, child protective services scooped him and his sister out of their aunt’s home for reasons unknown. This is not surprising — research in Ontario last year showed Aboriginal and Black children are far more likely to be investigated and taken into care than white children.

The family now speculates this could be because their aunt, who didn’t speak much English, took too long to register them for school.

Abdi bounced around among not one or two or a dozen homes but 31 of them, some, he says, abusive situations. A study last year by Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth linked foster care experiences to later outcomes of homelessness and criminality, among others.
Abdi, too, got sucked into illegal activities.

When he messed up, he faced the consequences. About four years in prison for multiple offences, including aggravated assault.

He is also paying the price for errors by the system.

On Jan. 4, no alarm bells were sounded in the labyrinthine corridors of power in Canada, when Canada Border Services Agency officers arrested Abdi as he left prison after serving his sentence and was at the gates of a halfway house.

They were going to deport him, they said. Send him packing because it turned out the kid who grew up in Canada was not a Canadian citizen. His crown parents — the Department of Community Services — had never applied for a citizenship for him.

Where was he being banished? Not to Saudi, his birthplace, which might have been the logical though still unjustifiable choice, but to Somalia, the place of his mother’s ethnic origins, a place so dangerous that Canadian officials and planes don’t go there. A place whose language Abdi does not speak, and where he knows no one.

Repeatedly abandoned as a child, Abdi is now an officially unwanted adult.

It has taken a village, for us to hear of Abdi.

More accurately, it has taken a set of extraordinarily large-hearted individuals, many of whom have never met Abdi, but who are tied together by a passionate rejection of injustice to bring his story to the forefront of our nation’s conscience.

Last month, Halifax poet laureate and activist El Jones chronicled in the Halifax Examiner just one week of the collective action taken for Abdi.

In it she wove the stories of disparate lives criss-crossing through past injustices. How Jones came across Abdi via Coralee Smith, the mother of Ashley Smith who died in 2007, asphyxiated from a ligature tied around her neck as correctional officers watched.

How Abdi’s sister Fatouma courageously challenged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a town hall in Nova Scotia, thereby ensuring national attention on this case.

How Jones and journalist/activist Desmond Cole questioned Minister of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Ahmed Hussen at a National Black Summit in that city, and endured criticisms of being disruptive and rude and not supporting a fellow Black minister.

“As though,” Jones writes, “having a Black man sign the deportation papers is progress.”

She writes of Abdi’s “fantastic” lawyer Ben Perryman who finds himself suddenly under the glare of media spotlight.

And of the near-misses, the small successes, the support and amplification from Black Lives Matter and academics/activists Rinaldo Walcott and Idil Abdillahi, and student activist Masuma Khan among others.

Here is an important thing:

“All of us have jobs, and school, and families,” she writes. “This isn’t even the only thing we’re advocating on this week, because there’s always more suffering, more rights being denied, more people in need.”

Yet Jones writes of hope, and of love that carries them forward.

Their undertaking serves to underline the inhumanity of the decisions that mark this case.

Federal minister of public safety Ralph Goodale refused to pause a deportation hearing while Abdi’s lawyers mount a constitutional challenge to his deportation. At its hearing on March 7, the Immigration and Refugee Board will not review the complexities of the case to decide if Abdi can enter or remain in the country, his lawyer told the CBC. His criminal record will inevitably lead to a deportation order, he said.

A deportation order would automatically strip Abdi’s permanent resident status.

No PR status means he can’t keep his job, means he risks going back to prison; being employed is a condition for his release.

And round and round it goes.

This is the face of institutions ganging up against vulnerable individuals. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told an audience in Quebec it’s time to recognize anti-Black racism exists in Canada. “Canada can and must do better,” he said.

What are we waiting for?

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Diaspora

Why a group of Seattle mothers and children came together to write their own alphabet book

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SEATTLE TIMES — Over meals of traditional food and tea, five Somali mothers and their children gathered in their NewHolly neighbourhood this past year to create a children’s book.

The Seattle families brought in family possessions, rooted in Somali culture, to be photographed to appear alongside the appropriate letter of the alphabet. The plan now is to distribute 1,000 copies of “Baro Af-Soomaali” locally, before marketing the book more broadly.

Necessity was the mother of invention for these families as they decided to do something about the fact that even in Seattle — where the Somali community is among the largest in the nation — there aren’t enough books in Somali.

The Seattle Public Library has about 200 books in Somali, according to the library system, and under half are children’s books. There are very few board books.

Packed into the NewHolly Gathering Hall in Southeast Seattle, a crowd of hundreds celebrated the launch Friday of the new children’s alphabet board book, “Baro Af-Soomaali,” for the Seattle Public Library system and beyond. The title translates to “learning Somali.”

The overarching goal of the project: to provide a tool for Somali parents who want to share their culture while teaching their children English.

During their workshops, each family was assigned letters and began creating artwork for the book. They brought in family possessions, rooted in Somali culture, to be photographed to appear alongside the appropriate letter of the alphabet. Next to “D,” for instance, is the word “Dambiil” and a picture of a basket.

Project leaders plan to distribute 1,000 copies of “Baro Af-Soomaali” locally, before marketing it to libraries, schools and retailers across the country and globe, according to the library system and Seattle Housing Authority. The book will also be available as a free PDF download on the system’s website.

The book was funded in part by The Seattle Public Library Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Race to the Top Deep Dive 3 with Puget Sound Educational Service District and Community Center for Education Results.

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