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  • Soccer Without Borders

Play It Forward 2023: Inspirational Reads Recommended by SWB Staff

Participants at our Uganda Youth Center working on their English literacy skills.

As we celebrate SWB United, our Play It Forward campaign for 2023, we are excited to share this series of end-of-year blogs centered around the ways that soccer has the power to inspire, unite, and create a more inclusive and equitable world.

For the remainder of the year, join us every Wednesday as we bring you special, staff chosen mission moments, motivating books and movies, inspirational soccer memories, and more!


Last year, from Oakland to Maryland, Massachusetts to Colorado, Nicaragua to Uganda, and globally through SWB Assist, an incredible 111 staff members and 486 volunteers worked to advance the mission of Soccer Without Borders (SWB). These hard working, caring, and passionate individuals – along with the valuable support of local families, community members, and partners – helped ensure that all 4,976 participants served had opportunities to reach their greatest potential, both on and off the soccer field.

Hailing from 64 countries of origin and speaking 47 unique languages, many of our participants are newcomers – they are refugee and asylum-seeking youth fleeing some of the world's most challenging and protracted conflicts, seeking safety, stability, and opportunities to build a new home.

At SWB, we serve some of society’s most marginalized communities, and as our coaches, volunteers, and staff members can surely attest, this type of work doesn’t come without its challenges. Because of this, we cherish every opportunity to stop and reflect, to look upon that mission moments, big or small, that make every challenge worthwhile.

While many of our favorite moments of inspiration come directly from SWB soccer fields and classrooms (check out our recent blog on our top mission moments of 2023), we asked our staff members to share the books they’ve been reading over the past year – the works of fiction and nonfiction that have provided that little extra boost of motivation to their days.

As you add these titles to your own reading list, we hope that they inspire, motivate, and resonate. We hope that they can be a reminder that, together, we have the power to create a more inclusive and equitable world.

By Ishmael Beah (2007)

Recommended by Bridget Black, SWB Advancement Manager

“In A Long Way Gone, Beah, now twenty-five years old, tells a riveting story: how at the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he'd been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. This is a rare and mesmerizing account, told with real literary force and heartbreaking honesty.”

By Warren St. John (2009)

Recommended by Mia Golin, SWB People and Culture Coordinator

“Set against the backdrop of an American town that without its consent had become a vast social experiment, Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees and their charismatic coach. Warren St. John documents the lives of a diverse group of young people as they miraculously coalesce into a band of brothers, while also drawing a fascinating portrait of a fading American town struggling to accommodate its new arrivals. At the center of the story is fiery Coach Luma, who relentlessly drives her players to success on the soccer field while holding together their lives—and the lives of their families—in the face of a series of daunting challenges.

This fast-paced chronicle of a single season is a complex and inspiring tale of a small town becoming a global community—and an account of the ingenious and complicated ways we create a home in a changing world.”

By Gwendolyn Oxenham (2017)

Recommended by Sydney Wilson, SWB Coach-Mentor

Under the Lights and in the Dark: Untold Stories of Women's Soccer takes an unprecedented look inside the lives of professional football players around the world – from precarious positions in underfunded teams and leagues, to sold-out stadiums and bright lights. Award-winning filmmaker and journalist Gwendolyn Oxenham tells the stories of the phenoms, underdogs, and nobodies – players willing to follow the game wherever it takes them.”

By Helen Thorpe (2017)

Recommended by Grace Oberschmidt, SWB Coach-Mentor

“From the award-winning, ‘meticulously observant’ author of Soldier Girls and Just Like Us comes a powerful and moving account of how refugee teenagers at a public high school learn English and become Americans, in the care of a compassionate teacher.

The Newcomers follows the lives of twenty-two immigrant teenagers throughout the course of the 2015-2016 school year as they land at South High School in Denver, Colorado. These newcomers, from fourteen to nineteen years old, come from nations convulsed by drought or famine or war. Many come directly from refugee camps, after experiencing dire forms of cataclysm. Some arrive alone, having left or lost every other member of their original family.”

By Roger Bennett (2021)

Recommended by Dustin Alarid, SWB Communications Director

“One-half of the celebrated Men in Blazers duo, longtime culture and soccer commentator Roger Bennett traces the origins of his love affair with America, and how he went from a depraved, pimply faced Jewish boy in 1980’s Liverpool to become the quintessential Englishman in New York. A memoir for fans of Jon Ronson and Chuck Klosterman, but with Roger Bennett’s signature pop culture flair and humor.

(Re)Born in the USA captures the universality of growing pains, growing up, and growing out of where you come from. Drenched in the culture of the late ’80s and ’90s from the UK and the USA, and the heartfelt, hilarious sense of humor that has made Roger Bennett so beloved by his listeners, here is both a truly unique coming-of-age story and the love letter to America that the country needs right now.”

By Melissa Fu (2022)

Recommended by Jennifer Tepper, SWB Executive Director

“China, 1938. Meilin and her four-year-old son, Renshu, flee their burning city as Japanese forces advance. On the perilous journey that follows, across a China transformed by war, they find comfort and wisdom in their most treasured possession, a beautifully illustrated hand scroll filled with ancient fables.

Years later, Renshu settled in America as Henry Dao. Though his daughter, Lily, is desperate to understand her heritage, he refuses to talk about his childhood in China. How can he tell his story when he's left so much behind?

Spanning continents and generations, Peach Blossom Spring is a bold and moving story about the haunting power of our past, the sacrifices we make to protect our children, and one family's search for a place to call home.”

By Lamya H (2023)

Recommended by Larkin Brown, SWB Director of Monitoring & Learning

“Written with deep intelligence and a fierce humor, Hijab Butch Blues follows Lamya as she travels to the United States, as she comes out, and as she navigates the complexities of the immigration system - and the queer dating scene. At each step, she turns to her faith to make sense of her life, weaving stories from the Quran together with her own experiences: Musa leading his people to freedom; Allah, who is neither male nor female; and Nuh, who built an ark, just as Lamya is finally able to become the architect of her own story.

Raw and unflinching, Hijab Butch Blues heralds the arrival of a truly original voice, asking powerful questions about gender and sexuality, relationships, identity and faith, and what it means to build a life of one's own.”

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2023)

Recommended by Sarah Stengl Keras, SWB Program Manager

“As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are fleeing the country if they can. Ifemelu--beautiful, self-assured--departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze – the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor – had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.”

(Editor's note: the views and opinions expressed by the above authors and publishers do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Soccer Without Borders. Read about the SWB mission and vision here.)

Now that you have some brand new editions to your winter reading list, learn more about:


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