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January 28, 2005

Escaped Sudanese Slave Keynotes Black History Month at MHC

Francis Bok, a former Sudanese slave who survived ten years in bondage before his escape to the United States, will tell his story on February 2, 2005, at 7 pm in Gamble Auditorium at Mount Holyoke College.

Bok's speech will be the keynote address for Mount Holyoke's celebration of Black History Month, organized and sponsored by the Black History Month Committee. (A complete list of the month's scheduled events can be found here.) He will relate details from his life as a slave, which he recorded in his acclaimed autobiography, Escape from Slavery. He will also speak out against modern-day slavery. A book signing will follow Bok's talk.

"Francis Bok's story shoots an arrow into the listener's heart, penetrating the reality of modern slavery as well as the reality of hope," said Isabelle Darling, coordinator of multicultural affairs and associate dean. "His words force us to realize our responsibility and our ability to make a change. It has been of great importance for the Black History Month Committee to initiate conversation among our community.

"The theme of this year's Black History Month celebrations at MHC, 'Let's Start Talking among Friends,' evokes Dr. Martin Luther King's quotation, 'In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,' " Darling said. "Francis Bok has overcome years of silence. The Black History Month Committee hopes that members of the MHC community will support his voice and embrace their own."

In spite of its place in American history, slavery neither began nor ended with the Civil War. According to the International Labor Organization, there remain 27 million people in bondage worldwide. Most recently, governments and humanitarian organizations have expressed concern for the children affected by the South Asian tsunami disaster, and sounded the alarm that child trafficking gangs may be preying on the thousands who have become orphaned or separated from their parents. Modern-day slavery is defined as "forced labor, with no pay, under the threat of violence."

Bok, an activist with the American Anti-Slavery Group, now devotes his time to promoting awareness of contemporary slavery. "I am no longer another man's property, but I still fight for the liberation of others," he said. "What good is my freedom if my brothers and sisters around the world are still enslaved?"

In 1986, Bok was abducted at age seven during an Arab slave raid on his village in southern Sudan. Bok saw adults and children brutalized and killed all around him. Strapped to a donkey and taken north, for ten years Bok lived as a slave to a northern Sudanese family. He slept next to the cattle he was forced to tend, endured regular beatings, and ate rotten food.

Escaping to a nearby town, Bok found a truck driver willing to bring him to Khartoum, the capital. There, he was jailed for seven months before being released, and made his way to Cairo, Egypt. He was resettled by the United Nations in North Dakota in 1999.

Since his escape, Bok has dedicated his life to speaking out on behalf of those who are still in bondage. He has spoken on college campuses across the country, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, been profiled on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, and met with President George W. Bush. Escape from Slavery was released by St. Martin's Press and recently won the Suze Orman Award for Best New Author.

The American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG) is America's leading human rights group dedicated to abolishing modern-day slavery worldwide. Since its founding in 1994, the American Anti-Slavery Group has helped free more than 80,000 slaves, spotlighted and defended the work of local abolitionist activists around the globe, brought modern-day slavery into the international agenda, and launched an anti-slavery Web portal that updates and mobilizes 45,000 activists each month.


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