Soccer Anywhere

The Concrete2Green futsal center at Eastland Mall keeps kids off the streets.

AKBAR MAJEED The Concrete2Green futsal center at Eastland Mall keeps kids off the streets.

Akbar Majeed's love for soccer turned into an avenue to help underprivileged youth

Akbar Majeed grew up playing soccer, and he loved it. Most of his friends weren't into it though, so by the time he got  to West Charlotte High School he started to drift away from it, choosing the more popular stick and ball sports instead. As he grew older, he remembered how important soccer was to him, and he wanted to find a way to make it more accessible -- and socially acceptable -- to kids, especially minorities. Now, on any given day you'll find dozens of kids running around playing soccer at the facility he made possible. A year earlier, there was an abandoned ice rink in that same spot.

Majeed, thirty-seven, is president and cofounder of Concrete2Green LLC, a company that turns abandoned spaces in urban areas into soccer fields. In February he opened the Concrete2Green Futsal Center at Eastland Mall. The 14,000-square-foot space has been transformed from a former ice rink into a place for kids to play futsal, commonly known as street soccer, which is a faster-paced, higher-scoring game that is played in smaller spaces. While the attention Eastland Mall receives today is often negative, he says it is the perfect place for his pilot project.

"The east side is Charlotte's international corridor," Majeed says. "The great thing about this [mall] is that it already attracts so many different cultures. We have individuals from all over the world who come here and play -- groups from Bosnia, Liberia, Central and South America, different countries from Africa. Kids who come here and just play. All that other stuff is left outside."

Majeed says his company is working on building facilities in Harlem, New York, where his business partner is located. The Eastland Mall project has attracted a lot of interest, and now that the facility is up and running his biggest challenge is the uncertainty surrounding the mall's future.

"We know the city's plan for Eastland Mall might take place in 2011 or 2012, but our business model was, 'Until then, what?' " he says. "A lot of people wait for the 'what' and nothing happens in between then. If we can keep a few hundred youth off the street for the next two years, then it was worth it to us."

Big Idea

"In Charlotte, I would want to open about ten to fifteen outdoor facilities. If you look at neighborhoods that are heavily immigrant, you have tennis courts that are just sitting there that no one is using. Those are prime to put this in. We're so conditioned to think soccer: big field, park, twenty-two players. But if you and a few friends can go to a tennis-size court and kick the ball around, that leads to healthier living, people being more active, and helps clean up those areas that are sort of sitting around rotting."

Photo: AKBAR MAJEED The Concrete2Green futsal center at Eastland Mall keeps kids off the streets.

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