On October 17, Executive Director Tom Prichard had the opportunity to make some remarks at the induction of Manute Bol at the Fairfield County Sports Hall of Fame. Below are his remarks regarding Manute and his amazing work:
Manute Bol – Giant of a Man
Remarks by Tom Prichard
At Manute’s Induction in the
Fairfield County (CT) Sports Hall of Fame
October 17, 2016
You may think of Manute Bol as the Sudanese giant who went from living in a grass-roofed mud hut and carrying a spear to protect cattle from lions, to electrifying basketball at the University of Bridgeport on his way to becoming not only the tallest college player, but the tallest player in NBA history. In his ten years in the NBA he set records as a shot-blocker, some which still stand, and remarkably distinguished himself as a three-point shooter. When you think of Manute, you may even recall his role in adding the ever-present saying “my bad” to the English language.
But I remember Manute as a giant towering over others because of what he did off the court.
He was a rescuer. But not of a few. 27,000 Lost Boys credit Manute Bol with saving their lives. Khartoum was starving them to death because Omer Al Bashir feared they would grow up to become rebel soldiers. Manute blocked Bashir’s annihilation plans by risking his life to walk among the Lost Boys. Within a few days Manute had life-saving food dropped by air, and his presence provoked a UN rescue effort. Manute also fought to pry open the doors to the US to more than 2,000 Lost Boys. As their rescuer, he challenged the boys not to become child soldiers, but to focus on education.
He was a fighter, helping lead his oppressed people to freedom as a new nation. In 1993 he self-funded a lobby effort to over 40 members of Congress to advocate for the US to abandon Khartoum and stand with the oppressed of south Sudan. When so many southern Sudanese had perished in an unequal fight of spears against machine guns, Manute Bol leveled the field by purchasing the south’s first two tanks. And when fraud threatened the final election before the south’s independence referendum, Manute made the ultimate sacrifice. He walked away from much-needed medical care in Nairobi to return to South Sudan, where he successfully campaigned to keep south Sudan’s independence on track. He was a fighter to the very end. Shortly before his death he proudly told me from a hospital bed, “I did it!” Sudan’s Ambassador to the US later commented that “had he lived, Manute could well have become the President of South Sudan.”
He was a visionary, who saw that building a new nation would take more than independence, but that success would depend on education and reconciliation. I had the privilege of working with Manute to fulfill his vision of building schools in South Sudan and Sudan for children irrespective of tribe or religion. Thanks to Manute right now in his home town of Turalei, children from different religious and tribal groups once considered enemies are learning together and building bonds of friendship. Half of his dream – South Sudan becoming an independent nation – has been fulfilled. But Manute had the vision to see that building a new nation would take the hard work of forgiveness, reconciliation and education.
Right now South Sudan has few heroes and fewer good examples. South Sudan has been taken to the breaking point by corrupt leaders who have amassed fortunes, and who have consolidated power by exploiting tribal divisions. I don’t know of any example as timely or as healing for South Sudan as that of the giant who expended his wealth and even his health for the freedom and well-being of his people. He came from a grass-roofed mud hut, and for the last months of his life, he was not living in luxury like so many embezzlers, but again under a grass roof, like any other South Sudanese. All the while Manute’s eye was on the horizon, working to heal tribal and religious divisions and forge a new nation at peace with itself.
Thank you for remembering Manute and helping to hold up the example of this giant rescuer, fighter and visionary. Your recognition will raise his example rise a little bit higher, perhaps in this moment of chaos his people can catch a glimpse of Manute, and with Manute’s help recover their hope and renew their dedication to the cause of building a better future for the people of South Sudan and Sudan.