In 1986, when he was only seven, Francis Bok watched the Sudanese militia storm his village in southern Sudan. While the men of his village were slaughtered, Mr. Bok found himself strapped to a donkey and taken to the North to Kirio, where for ten years he lived as a slave to a man named Giemma Abdullah. For ten years he endured daily threats and beatings, and was forced to sleep with the cattle and eat rotten food. Always called abeed (black slave), Bok was given an Arabic name – Dut Giema Adbullah – and forced to perform Islamic prayers. Finally, at 17, he successfully escaped, running for miles to a neighboring town of Matari.
Still, Mr. Bok would continue to encounter obstacles. In Matari he was enslaved by the very police officers to whom he reported his abuse. Later, in the nation’s capital of Khartoum, he was arrested and imprisoned by security forces for speaking openly with other refugees about his years of slavery. Mr. Bok was finally released in 1999. In the same year, he escaped to Cairo, where he was granted UN Refugee Status and relocated to Fargo, North Dakota.
Francis meets with Congressman John Conyers outside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. after testifying before the Senate.
Although finally safe, Mr. Bok was still troubled. “What good is my freedom if my brothers and sisters around the world are enslaved?” Soon after arriving in the US he joined forces with the American Anti-Slavery Group. Since then he has traveled tirelessly from coast to coast, telling his story. Mr. Bok has spoken in middle school classrooms in Colorado and to crowds of over 20,000 at the Alamodome. Most notably, he headed a panel on slavery at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, and Essence Magazine, in addition to several radio and television shows.
In 2000, Mr. Bok became the first escaped slave to testify before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations in Washington D.C. In 2002, he was invited back to Washington for the signing of the Sudan Peace Act. During these capitol visits, Mr. Bok had the opportunity to meet with then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as well as President George W. Bush. He’s been recognized for his efforts by John Kerry and the Boston Celtics, and in 2002 he carried the Olympic torch.
In 2003, his award-winning autobiography Escape From Slavery (St. Martin’s Press) received widespread acclaim. With editions in English and German, and a Spanish edition about to be released, his firsthand account of modern-day slavery has become a global phenomenon. In the US, it has been integrated into elementary and middle school curricula. Mr. Bok has inspired an entire generation of abolitionists.
Today he continues his work with the American Anti-Slavery Group from Kansas where he is also active in the local Sudan Sunrise, a group that works to facilitate reconciliation throughout Sudan. He lives there with his wife, Atak, and their two young children Buk and Dhal.