It’s been a while since we’ve had a Club Feature at SmallWorld, but this one will be worth the wait.
I happened across Bright Stars SC while searching for clubs that might be hidden gems in lower-league soccer, and reached out to them via their contact page on their website. Considering how many times I’ve done this with no response, I didn’t expect a response in this instance.
Weeks later, though, once I had forgotten all about it, I randomly received a call from an unknown number. These are frequently scam calls, but fortunately for me in this case, I still have a habit of answering these calls. Usually, I answer them in Spanish for the comedic effect of hearing the response on the other line.
This time, though, I chose to answer in English, and I’m glad I did. Because on the other line, I heard John Abum of Bright Stars introduce himself.
The phone conversation that ensued was one of the more exciting ones I’ve had in a long time, and I learned a lot about a club that’s mostly hard to find information on without going straight to the source.
I’m mostly choosing to paraphrase John’s comments to ensure I don’t misquote anything from our phone conversation. That said, here’s a look inside Bright Stars from the owner himself, John Abum.
Who Are Bright Stars?
John first explained to me that Bright Stars is a club located in Denver, Colorado that is made up of African refugees in the area. He stressed that the club isn’t just for Africans, but the club was started as a response to their inability to play in most other clubs.
John, himself from The Gambia by way of Ghana, told me about the young African talent he would always see in local parks. What he noticed, however, was that virtually none of these talented kids were playing in any of Denver’s youth clubs. John wondered why this was, so he set out to discover what the disconnect was.
As it turned out, it wasn’t a surprising one: the families of those kids didn’t have the money to pay high club fees at said youth clubs. No one had truly created an opportunity for international players in the area who couldn’t afford to play in affluent youth leagues.
Nobody, that is, until John Abum.
He came up with the idea of creating a completely-free soccer club for these African kids to play for, and he began to pitch it to churches and other organizations in the area that could help him make it a reality. Some helped, others didn’t, but in 2016, John and his wife Pearl started the Bright Stars of Colorado Soccer Club.
How Have Bright Stars Grown?
That first team was made up of just 10 teenage African immigrants, but by 2017, they had a full team that was competing locally. Later that year, they joined the UPSL as an expansion club and began playing the best young adult talent in the region.
As they grew, more kids and families began to notice, especially once they joined a national league like UPSL. Families like the Galega family that John pointed to are evidence of the growth they’re experiencing.
The Galegas brought their kids to a Bright Stars camp last year and haven’t left the club since then. They were pleasantly surprised at the quality of instruction for the price, having told John that his program is better than the elite youth clubs charging $2000 a year.
With that kind of value in such an expensive travel sport as soccer, word got around fast, and thanks to families like the Galegas spreading the news, Bright Stars has grown in participation by 100% since that camp last year.
On the community side, they’re still looking to start gaining more traction. They haven’t had the level of support from local business partners that they’d like, and there’s still little to no fanbase at UPSL matches as of now.
What John has done to drum up support that’s working, though, is through adult events, from social pickup leagues to small tournaments open to the whole community. This is raising awareness for the club’s cause and building a larger player pool every day.
Speaking of building, there’s an even bigger community project that Bright Stars have been working on: the United African Premier Soccer League. The UAPSL is designed to unite the African immigrant population by hosting teams of players from their respective countries of origin in one league.
So far, the league is operating in the Denver area and fields teams from Ghana, Liberia, Senegal, Eritrea, and Rwanda, but John says there are many more countries that could be represented in the near future.
Everything the club makes from the UAPSL and all its community leagues is put straight back into making the youth programs as affordable as possible, with the end goal of making them absolutely free for each player.
The future of the UAPSL could include various other cities, from Atlanta (a little biased, but this would be a great place for that!) to New York City itself. As John told me, “Our dreams are big, but it’s little by little.”
Who is John Abum?
But who is this John Abum anyway?
John is an African immigrant himself, of course, born in The Gambia and raised in Ghana.
Like many other boys across Africa, John loved playing soccer growing up. In 2004, though, soccer changed his life when he had the opportunity to go to college in the United States and play soccer there.
Soccer helped John pay his way through school, and it’s a large part of why he’s now living in America as a success story for immigrants everywhere.
In short, he’s exactly the person to be leading such a valiant effort to bring joy and opportunity to fellow African immigrants and help embrace the entire community, a symbol of unity in a time where America doesn’t have enough of that.
He’s done it all with virtually nobody’s help (aside from his wife Pearl, who’s also played a largely influential role). But he’s got ambitions that are much, much higher than what he’s already done.
Shining Farther Than Ever Before
Bright Stars was founded to serve its local area in Colorado, but they haven’t stopped there.
Their outreach is truly global, as John has begun the process of finding teenage soccer players from Africa who have the grades and ability to attend college in America through soccer, just like John did when he was a teen.
This project is obviously an ambitious and expensive one, but for John, it’s all part of the overarching goal to give kids the opportunities they deserve. He’s using soccer to make his community, his home continent, and the lower-league soccer better, and that’s something truly admirable and worth supporting.
Speaking of that, we’ll be ready to see Bright Stars on the pitch whenever it’s possible, but there are still ways to get involved and help the club achieve all it’s setting out to do!
You can support Bright Stars by following them on Twitter @brightstarscol, on Facebook @brightstarssoccer, and by keeping up with their website.
Bright Stars is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, so definitely consider donating to their cause if you’re able to! Making soccer free for these families will be especially crucial as youth soccer picks back up again in a weakened economy where many have lost jobs.
Well, that’s all for one of the most unique and inspiring Club Features I’ll ever have the honor of writing. Thanks for reading about Bright Stars, and thanks for supporting SmallWorld as always! Just like John is doing:
Support local soccer, unify those around you, and seek out diversity!