This article was first published in CU Independent
November 18, 2010
By Ana McIntosh
If anyone knows the value of freedom in America, it’s Francis Bok. Tuesday night former slave Francis Bok spoke in the Glenn Miller Ballroom. The talk was hosted by CU’s Model United Nations and included a Q&A session and opportunity for autographs. Bok began by telling the story of how he was enslaved.
Bok was 7 years old when he was first enslaved, and spent the next 10 years of his life in slavery. On Aug. 13, 1999, he made it to America. After a rocky adaptation to the culture shock, Bok completed high school at the Boston Evening Academy. Now 31 years old, Bok is working on completing his undergraduate degree.
But this year, he is putting school on hold. He is giving talks like the one he gave last night to spread awareness of what is happening in his homeland.
On Jan. 9, 2011, Southern Sudanese refugees in many countries will vote for the separation or secession of Southern Sudan from the North. Bok said the Northern Sudanese want unity in order to access Southern Sudan’s natural resources, which include water and oil.
“It’s a unity of resources, not a unity of culture,” Bok said. “The people in South Sudan are forced to speak Arabic. But we are black Africans. We have our own way to cook, our own way to dress. We have our own religion. Most of us are Animists or Christians.”
Bok said he hopes the referendum will pass, and he will be able to build a high school in the village where he is from. But if it doesn’t, he said he is prepared to return to Sudan and fight.
Bok encouraged as many people as possible to speak to their representatives, write letters to the White House, or do something to raise awareness about the situation in Sudan.
“If we are not careful to support these people and prevent this war, millions of people will be killed,” Bok said.
Students attending said they hadn’t heard much about the genocide in Sudan aside from Darfur, but were eager to support Bok and Southern Sudan.
“Before, I didn’t really know about the Separatist Movement at all beyond Darfur,” said Jessica Ryan, a 19-year-old sophomore media studies major. “I think it’s important that people know about it and take action.”
Bok also discussed his foundation, the Francis Bok Foundation, though which he plans to raise funds for the school.
Shelbi Taylor, a 19-year-old sophomore international affairs major, said she thinks Boulder can make a difference.
“I’m excited that he came to Boulder and talked about his foundation,” Taylor said. “I think that we’re a good community to spread the word about the Separatist Movement and help him build his school.”
Other students said they are glad they’re no longer in the dark about what’s going on in Sudan.
“I just feel a bit more informed,” said Kelsie Kline, an 18-year-old freshman MCD biology major. “I’m glad I came to this. It’s not something we talk about in popular culture or in the media very much.”
Hearing about Bok’s escape from modern-day slavery and learning about the continuous trials his people face today made some students feel a deepened sense of gratitude for what they have.
“It just teaches you to value others and yourself and freedom and everything even more,” said Ali Naaseh, an 18-year-old freshman percussion-performance major. “Even if you can’t make a direct effect, you can spread the word, change the way you think about something, take a step towards knowing more, and create a chain reaction.”
Bok closed with a hopeful message.
“I still have dreams,” Bok said. “I wanna be somebody. I want to make a difference. I want to do well for myself and I want to do well for my people. I appreciate that [the UN] brought me to this country but that’s not a lasting solution.”
Bok said it is about the Southern Sudanese getting to govern themselves.
“Give a man a fish, he’ll have food for a day,” Bok said. “Teach a man to fish he’ll have food for a lifetime. That is what we want to do. We want to govern ourselves.”