Francis Bok, a human rights activist and former child slave from Sudan, will speak to ninth-grade students at Santa Monica High School Friday, May 19th.
His visit to Santa Monica is part of the high school’s Facing History and Ourselves curriculum.
Bok will also speak at a free community forum at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 18th, at the California African American Museum, 600 State Drive in Exposition Park, Los Angeles.
“I want to tell the students at Santa Monica High School that hatred is not a value,” Bok said. “We are all one human family and we should all strive to help each other.”
In 1986, at the age of seven, Bok was kidnapped from his village in southern Sudan and taken to the northern part of the country to be sold to an Arab farmer.
At the time, Sudan was in a civil war between Arabs in the north and Christians in the south, where Bok was from.
Bok believes his kidnappers were from an Arab militia.
For ten years, he was enslaved and tended to his master’s large herds of livestock.
He said was beaten daily, forced to eat rotten food, and slept on the ground near the cattle.
At age 17, Bok said he summoned the courage to escape after thinking about it for three years.
He escaped to Matari, where he was enslaved by local police officers for two months because he reported the farmer’s abuse.
An Arab truck driver helped Bok escape to Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, where he was arrested by security forces and jailed for seven months.
Bok said he was jailed because he spoke openly about being enslaved to people living in the city’s refugee camps.
After his release, Bok went to Cairo, Egypt. In 1999, the United Nations helped him resettle in Fargo, North Dakota. He later moved to Iowa.
Bok now lives in Kansas with his wife and child.
In 2000, he became an associate with the American Anti-Slavery Group, based in Boston, Massachusetts.
His work takes him around the country to talk to students and grassroots organizations about slavery.
His autobiography, Escape from Slavery, was published in 2003 and received critical acclaim from Entertainment Weekly, Publisher’s Weekly, and The Boston Globe.
“Nations are not doing enough to stop genocide, slavery, and human rights violations,” Bok says. “Freedom is everyone’s business because freedom means human potential.”
The Facing History and Ourselves curriculum was brought to Santa Monica High School in response to inter-racial conflict at the school last year.
Racial tensions have surfaced occasionally at the high school for several years, with incidents of fights and graffiti.
Facing History and Ourselves is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and professional development to teachers worldwide.
By studying the historical development and lessons of the Holocaust and other examples of collective violence, the organization believes that students can make the connection between history and the choices they face in their own lives.
Historical examples also include race in the U.S. and Los Angeles, the eugenics movement, and the Armenian genocide.
The curriculum has been folded into the high school’s mandatory Freshman Seminar classes for ninth-graders.
“Facing History and Ourselves is not an intervention program, it is about preventing violence and prejudice,” said Dan Alba, regional director of Facing History and Ourselves.
“Working with the faculty at Santa Monica High School has allowed us to show students how to confront history in order to better understand their responsibility to each other and the larger community.”
Alba said Bok would be a good role model for the students.
Bok overcame a difficult past, Alba said, and journeyed from victim to become an “upstander.”
“Students have said Bok’s book made them realize what is going on in the world and how they can respond to people who are suffering,” Alba said.
Mary Hendra, a history teacher at Santa Monica High School, also said students are excited to see Bok and have been talking about Sudan’s current civil war in Darfur.
“Slavery causes someone to lose his or her identity,” Hendra said. “What Francis Bok went through lets students realize that they can lose their identity when they try to fit into certain types of crowds or cave into peer pressure against their own deeply held beliefs.”
Bok says he is not bitter about his childhood and that he channels his energies into human rights activism.
“Everyone has a purpose and goals to make and meet in their own lifetime,” Bok says. “My goal is to help my people and I hope to mobilize enough people and politicians to aid Sudan.”
The Allstate Foundation sponsors Bok’s visit to the California African American Museum.