Black Arts Week Kicks Off With Speaker Bok, Dinner

Sharing his experience with the Andover community this past Wednesday at the Black Arts Week All-School Meeting, former Sudanese slave Francis Bok spoke on the importance of freedom and self-empowerment. Mr. Bok’s visit coincided with Phillips Academy’s February celebration of Black History Month. Mr. Bok also attended History 200 classes on Tuesday. During the All-School Meeting, students learned about modern-day slavery. “[Our] goal is to share our culture and dispel ignorance within ourselves and others,” President of African-Latino-American Society (Af-Lat-Am) Itiah Thomas ’03 said. Preceding Mr. Bok’s speech, Tess Borden ’04 and Temi Devers ’05 performed a dance entitled, “A Motherless Child.” Choreographed by Instructor in Dance Mark Broomfield, the dance was set to an African spiritual which highlighted the plight of slaves separated from their families. The lyrics, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child a long ways from home,” appropriately preluded Mr. Bok’s story. Mr. Bok began his speech, posing the hypothetical questions, “What good is my freedom if my people are dying and still enslaved? What are you going to do with your freedom? I had to ask myself that question and you do, too.” After two failed attempts at escape, a 17-year-old Mr. Bok finally left Sudan and was granted amnesty to the United States in 1999. “I was determined to leave,” he said. “I would rather die than be a slave. I am not an animal.” He is currently 24 years old. Mr. Bok is a member of the Dinka, the largest tribe in southern Sudan. The radical Muslim government allegedly considers the Dinka to be sub-human. Consequently, Mr. Bok was kidnapped from his village at the age of seven and enslaved. Since moving to the US three years ago, he has testified before the Senate in 2000 and has spoken on numerous television and radio talk shows to garner support for a Boston-based anti-slavery group. His biography will be released within the next six months. Mr. Bok initially received help from the United Nations Refugee Office in Egypt, which sent him to Fargo, North Dakota. He then moved to Ames, Iowa where he worked at a meat packing plant until he was contacted by the anti-slavery organization, Freedom Action Network. Although he was reluctant at first to speak out for fear of retaliation from the Sudanese government, the organization convinced Mr. Bok to move to Boston and become a full-time abolitionist. He now gives over 100 speeches a year and is working on learning English and acquiring his GED. According to Mr. Bok, the biggest problem in the fight against slavery is the lack of awareness. More than 95% of Americans believe that slavery was completely abolished in 1865. However, an estimated 27 million people are still enslaved throughout the world. “Awareness is very important,” Mr. Bok said. “We are the people who have been forgotten by the world.” He stressed that students are the most important to educate, because they have the ability to change the world. He added, “You are strong. You have a big voice and strong arms. You can free the slaves.” Natalie McGarry ’05 helped arrange Mr. Bok’s visit after reading a magazine article about modern-day slavery. She stated, “There are now one thousand more people that know something about slavery and can do something about it.” She added, “I just wanted to bring awareness to this issue. I have seen kids here do amazing things and I hope they will respond to this.” Through the website, the Freedom Action Network encourages that students become abolitionists by speaking to friends and lobbyists, and donating money to the cause. Mr. Bok also noted that the United Nations is powerless to deal with the problem of modern-day slavery because the Sudanese Government denies the existence of the problem. President Bush recently signed the Sudan Peace Act that addresses human rights in the African country. Continuing the themes presented at the All-School Meeting, Chair of the Spanish Department Emilio Mozo will present a documentary on oppressed migrant workers tonight in New England at a dinner-discussion for invited students. Tomorrow night, Af-Lat-Am will host a regional dance with students from nearby schools. Sunday morning, a Ghanaian priest will lead an African-style mass.