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On Friday, October 24, 2008 more than 400 people gathered at Granby Memorial High School Auditorium to hear the story of Francis Bok, escaped slave, refugee, and abolitionist from the southern region of war-torn Sudan.

His appearance was made possible through the efforts of GMHS teacher Elaine Chagnon, and the Granby Education Foundation (GEF).   The GEF is a nonprofit organization which raises private funds in support of its continuing mission to bring innovative educational initiatives to the people of Granby and its surrounding towns.  Mr. Bok’s visit was funded through a GEF Community Mini-Grant.

The evening began with a brief history and geography lesson focusing the audience’s attention on Sudan but quickly turned to the story of Mr. Bok.  It was hard to reconcile Mr. Bok’s sweet voice with the horrors that he recounted, clear memories of an innocent trip to the local market and its subsequent raid by gun and sword yielding horsemen.  For Mr. Bok, this raid ended his life as the special son of an affluent, cattle owning Dinka family, and began the journey of a seven year old boy who almost from the beginning of his ten year enslavement knew that escape and freedom were his destiny.  The details are as disturbing as the scars which are visible on his wrists.

Mr. Bok’s escape and search for freedom brought him through refugee camps and prison, through the world of black market passports and the wait for a visa, to a new community in Cairo, Egypt, and ultimately, with the help of the United Nations, to the United States.  It was 1999; he was nineteen years old.  Through this journey, Mr. Bok relied on the kindness of strangers not only for his daily existence, but for the hope that family and new life could be his once again.  As he embraced new opportunity here in the U.S. and began to build a new family and community for himself, Mr. Bok attracted the attention of the American Anti-Slavery Group (AASG). 

Based in Boston, this group believed that a relationship with a survivor of slavery, one with a story as powerful as Mr. Bok’s, would strengthen their efforts to bring more media attention and general awareness to the international scourge of slavery.   While initially reluctant to leave the new home and friends that he had found in Ames, IA, or to attract any more attention to himself, Mr. Bok ultimately chose to honor the memory of his father, and his father’s belief that one day, Francis would do something important.  He joined the AASG and began to speak nationally about his experience in the hope that the world would address the plight of the 27 million people worldwide who live in bondage.  His speaking engagements began in churches and schools, escalating within days to a national spotlight when addressing Congress on behalf of the “Sudan Campaign of Conscience”.  He has since spoken to the United Nations, carried the Olympic torch, and held audiences with then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, then National Security Advisor and current Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and President Bush. 

Mr. Bok made the trip to Granby in the company of Tom Pritchard, a representative of Sudan Sunrise, a not-for-profit, non-denominational group working to bring peace and collaboration to Southern Sudanese Christians and Darfurian Muslims.  The first step toward this goal is to provide education to the millions of children who have been displaced by the years of war. Mr. Bok is currently working to raise money to build a school in his childhood village in the Sudan.  (More information on this effort can be found at www.sudansunrise.org .)

The evening ended with a book-signing, during which it was possible to talk with this incredible young man.  He was able to speak of hope, of forgiveness, of looking forward to a world changed by his impact.  The scars of cultural, ritual manhood were clear on his forehead, and the happiness in his eyes offered proof that one can overcome any obstacle with the faith that it is meant to be.

Please visit the Granby Education Foundation at www.granbyeducationfoundation.org to learn more about sponsored events and the GEF Community Mini-Grant application process.