Freedom walker campaigns against slavery
ANTI-SLAVERY AND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST
Simon Deng and wife with Sudanese expatriates whose families were
killed in the ongoing Darfur genocide, reached Washington on April
5, after his 300-mile Sudan Freedom Walk. Deng will return to
D.C. for the Save Darfur: Rally to Stop Genocide on
By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
Simon Deng could not sleep for three nights. A United Nations report confirmed
that children were still being sold for $10 in his homeland Sudan. It
awakened his own long buried nightmare: Simon Deng was kidnapped and sold
into slavery at age 9.
The news opened a wound in me. No one believed the story, but I
lived it and knew it was true, said Deng, 45, an anti-slavery activist
and Lifeguard Supervisor in DC 37 Local 508. It was then that I
decided to walk for peace and accountability.
On April 5, Mr. Deng, who works five months a year as a Lifeguard at Coney
Island, completed a historic 300-mile walk for freedom that began at the
U.N. and ended five states and 13 cities later on the steps of Capitol
Hill in Washington, DC. Like Martin Luther King Jr.s civil rights
marches, Deng conceived the Sudan Freedom Walk two years ago because,
Demonstrations work for a while, but connecting the cities by a
freedom walk amplifies the message.
Deng believes standing up for enslaved children and exposing the perpetrators
of human trafficking and genocide of Black Sudanese will break the silence
and change U.N. and U.S. policies. Rallies along the Mid-Atlantic States
route drew incredible support from people who traveled from Massachusetts,
Michigan and Colorado. Hundreds of students joined the march, as did basketball
giant Manute Bol, who is also from Sudan, and politicians including New
Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Modern day slavery
Mixed in the crowds, their eyes brimming with tears, were Sudanese expatriates,
former slaves and former perpetrators pained by memories and conscience.
One million Sudanese live in America, and half are former slaves.
Word of modern day slavery, unimaginable torture and atrocities in Sudan,
Africas largest nation, reached New York in 1995 when The City Sun,
a local Brooklyn newspaper, published an article by freelance reporter
Samuel Cotton. Slavery is still practiced in Sudan and Mauritania in Africa
as well as in Asia.
A centuries-old civil war in the Darfur region split Sudan North
against South, Muslims against Christians, Arabs against Blacks. War erupts
repeatedly, ending by treaty in 1972 only to resume over oil money in
Arab Janjaweed militia began raiding villages in the South in 2003 and
taking as slaves men, women and children. The government doesnt
call them slaves, they call them abductees, but neither term is good,
Deng was a slave to an Arab family for three and a half years, forced
to carry water from the river like a beast of burden, he said. When he
resisted he was beaten. Slaves are starved, beaten and tortured for the
slightest infraction, Deng said. Relief came only if you abandoned
your faith, converted to Islam, took an Arab name and became their son.
Unwilling to sacrifice his identity, Deng got his freedom after a chance
meeting in an open air market where he approached three men bearing tribal
Shilluk, raised oval markings across the forehead, from his village, Tonga.
After confirming the boys story, the men returned three days later,
took Simon, then 12, and reunited him with his family.
The village women cried and collapsed, he said, as if they
were seeing an apparition. My father offered 10 cows for my return
but for two and a half years no one came to claim the reward.
Later Deng received his Shilluk so no one would kidnap him again. As a
young man Deng worked as a messenger for Parliament in Khartoum, Sudans
capitol, but he was prohibited from swimming at an indoor pool without
his Arab friend Mohammed Abelah. Angered, Deng swam instead in the Nile
River. No one owned the Nile so no one could deny me access,
he explained. Eventually Deng became a champion long distance swimmer
and local hero who got the chance to come to America. He became a city
Lifeguard 16 years ago and a U.S. citizen nine years later.
In Darfur, said Deng, Blacks are banned from the cities. Northern cities
undergo periodic ethnic cleansing and Southern villages are raided. Black
people are corralled, beaten, arrested and detained in jails. Most women
are raped, and children end up dead, Deng said. The government denies
the Black people of the South basic needs like food and clean water.
No wants to call themselves a slave, no one wants to relive that
pain, Deng explained. The United States gave me what I, and
my ancestors, never experienced security. I have received something
from this country that I never had in my country, freedom. I have freedom
of speech without fear of reprisals or death. I cannot say these things
in my country and expect to live, he said.
I am blessed to have this freedom. I can use my voice to save lives
in Sudan. Freedom is one of the noblest gifts God has given humans, and
this country guarantees it by law.
As human beings, the worst we can do is to do nothing, Deng
said. Once we decide not to act, catastrophe beyond all belief will