A nonprofit school system for refugee and immigrant youth founded in Clarkston, a major hub for refugee resettlement, has received a $10 million gift from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.
Fugees Family, Inc. operates a tuition-free private school in DeKalb County that serves 170 students from more than 30 ethnic groups, offering specialized curricula for students learning English and support for people who experienced trauma. The $10 million donation from Scott, an author who was once married to Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, represents the single largest gift in the organization’s 18-year history.
“When they told me the amount, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and then I started crying,” said Fugees’ founder and CEO Luma Mufleh. “It’s been a really rough two years working in schools during a pandemic and then, you know, refugee needs just not being met and now, crises in Afghanistan and Ukraine. It just felt like we just kept getting hit after hit after hit.”
The Scott donation showed “people recognize that this work is important.”
Before establishing two brick-and-mortar schools, first in the Atlanta metro area and then in Columbus, Ohio, Fugees started out as an after-school soccer program. Among the first groups of Clarkston children served were refugees who had fled armed conflict in places like Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Liberia.
Mufleh says the $10 million gift will help expand Fugees’ educational model to 50 school districts across the U.S. over the next five years.
“We’re really excited that something that started in Atlanta in 2004 as a pickup soccer game is now going to be the lead example for refugee and immigrant education,” Mufleh said.
In a statement, Mufleh added: “Academic achievement is important for us, but it’s also about belonging and integration and our students making sense of this new country.”
News of the Scott donation comes amid the outbreak of a new global refugee crisis, with Russian forces’ ongoing strikes in Ukraine driving an exodus of over 2 million people from the war-torn country.
Mufleh says she hopes the outpouring of support for Ukrainian refugees serves as a model for how all refugees should be treated, regardless of country of origin.
“I hope that what we take from our reaction to Ukraine and how we’ve been mobilizing [to help] is that we need do that for every single refugee or anyone that’s been forced out of their homes … We are capable of so much.”
Lautaro Grinspan is a Report for America corps member covering metro Atlanta’s immigrant communities.
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