“There are seasons of following and seasons of leading.”
Dau speaks on interdisciplinary collaboration, transformation, and leadership at the University of Pennsylvania.
“There are seasons of following and seasons of leading.”
Dau speaks on interdisciplinary collaboration, transformation, and leadership at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I’m not supposed to be here.”
Dau speaks about his journey of education at Penn’s Scholarship Donor Reception (November 5, 2013).
January 28, 2011|By MARK KRAM, firstname.lastname@example.org
RAGE WELLED UP in young Dau Jok when he was told what happened: The Gok Dinka paramount chief Jok Dau Kachuol – his grandfather – had been slain in crossfire during yet another eruption of violence in Southern Sudan. It happened just under a year ago. Dau was living in Des Moines, Iowa, where he and what remained of his family had settled in 2003, and where he had emerged as a very fine high school basketball player. Given that he was also an “A” student, he had become enchanted with the possibility of attending Penn, where he could not only play college ball but also fulfill his ambitions academically.
But he began to waver as he absorbed the news of his grandfather, with whom Dau had become especially close since the bloody death of his father, Dut Jok. Dau had only been 6 years old when that happened. Dut had been a general in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and a beloved figured. Dau remembered that his father would “send bags of wheat, corn, sugar cane and soy beans to those in need.” Upon seeing the lifeless body of his father – who had been shot in the head during an encounter with the Arab opposition – Dau became so angry that he picked up an AK-47 with the intention of seeking revenge. But that would be a job ultimately undertaken by older members of his tribe, whom Dau says “hunted down and killed 200 to 300 Arabs” in retaliation.
Some of the same feelings overcame him as he sat there 7,000 miles away in Des Moines and pondered the death of his grandfather. For an hour, he remembers that he could not move, that he just “sat frozen in the same position.” Inside, he was churning with fury, possessed by the urge to do something to avenge what had happened. The small boy in him, who still was grieving the loss of his father, wanted to fly back home and take up arms. He told himself: “Someone has to be accountable!” But he knew that would be forbidden by his family, so he came up with a Plan B. Instead of attending Penn, he would go instead to the United States Military Academy.
“West Point had recruited me, so my first instinct was to call their coach,” says Dau. “I just wanted to join the Army [and] learn the skills and go kill people. What hurt most was the fact that another human being took his life and I could not do anything about it.”
But that was the boy in Dau speaking.
The man in him knows that he could do more for his people with his brains than with bullets.
Chances are you have never encountered anyone quite like Dau Jok. Given the horrors his young eyes have seen, it is extraordinary to think of how far he has come. Well apart from his ability on the basketball floor, where Penn coach Jerome Allen says he is still a “work in progress” as the Quakers begin their Ivy League schedule this evening against Yale at the Palestra, he carries himself with a purposeful air in whatever he does, be it in the classroom or the plans he has under way to create a foundation to send sports equipment back to Southern Sudan. One day, he plans to go back and build a school for children, who are still educated there by teachers who gather their students beneath a shady tree.
“Kids were always mocking me how bad I was as a basketball player, so I learned how to play to prove them wrong,” says Dau. “I would go to the YMCA and watched someone play, then when they left, I would get up and do exactly what they did. I did that over and over again.”
When he learned that basketball possibly could finance his education, Dau – a 6-4 guard – says he began to take it “really seriously.” At Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, he developed in his junior and senior years into one of the top shooters in the state. In an AAU game, the summer before his senior year, former Penn assistant coach John Gallagher says Dau “drained something like nine ‘threes’ in a row.” Says Gallagher, now the head coach at Hartford: “When we found out what his GPA was, we were all over him.” With a smile, Dau says of that game, “I was just stupid that day.” While he had had some scholarship interest from some other schools, he liked the idea of pursuing an Ivy League education. He believed it would help him realize his ultimate goal: to help his people.
It was something he had discussed with Manute Bol. While Dau did not know Manute well, he had the chance to meet him once in Kansas City. The 7-7 Bol supported the cause of the Sudanese refugees with a large percentage of his earnings during his 10-year NBA career. When Bol died last June, at age 47, Dau says, “the whole nation mourned him for what he had accomplished.” Dau remembers Bol had advised him: “Use your experience to motivate you. Get your education and go back and try to help people.” Dau has been thinking of how he can do that ever since.
Friends in Iowa say Dau has come a long way since he landed in the United States. Dau himself says that he has developed better control over his anger, which he says used to flare “if someone just looked at me the wrong way.” According to Bruce Koepple, who became a mentor for Dau in high school, Dau has learned to let go of the culture that schooled him in answering violence with violence. Says Koepple, the Iowa state director for AARP: “He is not taking everything so personally now. He is working through things with logic.”
Growth also is occurring on the basketball floor. While he has only played in four games and is 0-for-5 from three-point range, his coach says he is an excellent shooter and one of the hardest workers on the team. Allen says Dau “comes to practice early and stays late” and that he “really, really wants to be coached.” While Allen says Dau still has to show some improvement in his defense and ballhandling, he expects that his young freshman probably will get more of an opportunity to contribute once the Quakers get deeper into league play. Allen just shakes his head when he thinks of what Dau has been through – and where he is going.
“This is not your typical 18-year-old,” says Allen. “In my opinion – in the end – the university will have benefited more from having him than he will from having attended Penn.”
As he thinks back on the boy in those pictures, it occurs to Dau how quickly he grew up, how his early acquaintance with violence has shaped him. Always, he lived in fear, and prayed not for himself but for the people he loved. Every day, he would look at some member of his family and wonder if he would see them again, if they would be cut down by bullets and carried home under a sheet.
The boy still inside of Dau says, “In my memory, I can still see them bring my father home; I could see his feet sticking out. From that day, the goal was, ‘How do I get back at those Arabs?’ ”
But the man that has emerged in Dau says this: “I cannot hold to those feelings. But what I can do is be the closest thing I can be to my father in spirit. If someone needs food or a place to sleep, provide it.”
Or . . . an education. Dau cites this statistic: Only 2 percent of boys and 1 percent of girls complete school in Southern Sudan.
“The numbers are staggering,” says Dau, who can envision a day when children no longer asked to study under a shady tree. Given the opportunity, he will go back and build the schoolhouse he would have liked to have attended when he was young. It will have chalkboards and desks, with paper to write on instead of sand, and pens to do it with instead of fingers. Smiling, Dau says, “It will happen. Success in the only option.”
College freshman was awarded $10,000 to bring peace to native Southern Sudan
by Seth Zweifler | Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 11:33 pm
Just six years old at the time, Jok remembers looking on with horror as his father’s body was carried into the house, his face covered by a bed sheet atop a makeshift stretcher. Enraged by what he saw, Jok ran to the corner of the room and picked up an AK-47, ready to take revenge.
At that moment, there was only one thing on Jok’s mind — kill the Arab soldiers who had killed his father.
Today, however, the boy who once knew nothing but violence is working to become a man who will bring peace to his home of Southern Sudan, which has suffered decades of civil war.
Last week, Jok — a guard on Penn’s basketball team — was named a winner of the Davis Projects for Peace award for founding the Dut Jok Youth Foundation.
The organization, named in memory of Jok’s father, aims to help children in Southern Sudan fight poverty and violence by combining sports and academics.
The award — created in 2007 by philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis — is a national prize given yearly to 100 college students who have plans to promote peace through grassroots efforts.
“Getting this award is going to be an important jump start for me,” said Jok, who will receive a $10,000 grant to work with the foundation this summer. “If I don’t do this, I’m not sure who else will.”
In early February, Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships director Harriet Joseph met with Jok and informed him of the Davis Projects for Peace program. After some initial research, Jok described the award application process as “pretty easy overall.”
The long road to Penn
For Jok, though, the road to Penn has been anything but easy.
When Jok was a young child, his father, Dut, was a top commander in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Jok described his father as “someone who everybody respected and looked up to” in the Gok Dinka tribe.
Dut was also a well-established figure in Gok Dinka politics, responsible for day-to-day tribal affairs. When his father was killed, Jok said it felt like “the entire world had turned upside down.”
“It hit me right away. I was telling myself that it can’t be true, that it had to be a dream,” Jok said.
Even before that moment, Jok’s childhood had been unlike anything most Penn students will ever know. Jok attended school under the cover of trees, learning how to write with sticks in the dirt and how to add with pieces of broken branches.
Whenever he answered a question incorrectly, Jok said he would be promptly whipped by his teacher.
The threat of violence was never far from Jok’s mind. Once, after finishing a game of soccer with friends, Jok said a bomb exploded in the spot he had been just 15 minutes earlier.
Jok’s mother decided to bring Dau, his two brothers and his sister to Des Moines, Iowa, in 2003. Eleven years old at the time, Jok said he was made fun of “because of the way I dressed, spoke and acted.”
“In Africa, you were able to solve everything through violence,” he said. “In America, I had to learn how to take care of my problems in other ways.”
When Jok entered high school, he began to find a new home on a local Amateur Athletic Union basketball team.
On top of his hours spent practicing, Jok was determined to get up to par academically. He said he would stay up studying until 3 a.m. most days. When he finished high school, he had a 3.9 GPA.
“I could’ve had a 4.0, but I caught some senioritis at the end,” he added with a smile.
In 2009, Jok received an offer to play basketball for Penn. He hadn’t heard of the school before, but after some initial research online, he “jumped at the chance” to attend.
Wharton junior Zack Rosen, a fellow guard on the basketball team, called Jok “mature, wise and knowledgeable beyond his years.”
“Dau is the kind of person we should all try to be,” Rosen said. “He’s trying to do the right thing, which should be each of our goals in life.”
Back at Penn, Joseph said it is rare for CURF to see a freshman even submit an application for a national award like the Davis prize. But if one thing is clear, it is that Jok is no ordinary freshman.
This summer, Jok plans to travel back to Africa to begin work on the Dut Jok Youth Foundation. While abroad, he will distribute sports equipment, start building a basketball court and coordinate plans for a secondary school.
For Jok, the $10,000 from the Davis award will be “great seed money” to get things going.
“Dau’s motivation and dedication put things into perspective for me … because [my story] doesn’t even compare to what he’s been through,” said College freshman Cameron Gunter, a forward on the basketball team and close friend of Jok’s.
CURF Associate Director for Fellowships Cheryl Shipman said Jok was selected as the University’s candidate for the national award from a pool of about 10 finalists. For Shipman, Jok’s project stood out because it was “extremely well anchored.”
“He has that mix of idealism, energy and tenacity that looks like it will be effective for years to come,” she said.
Joseph — a self-proclaimed “Penn basketball junkie” — agreed, adding that Jok has enough connections in Southern Sudan to hit the ground running with the organization.
By 2016, Jok said he hopes to set up a fully funded secondary school with a capacity to serve more than 750 Sudanese students. Jok also wants to build a sports complex where “every major Western sport other than padded football” can be played.
“My father lived his life for others, and that’s what I want to do,” he said. “My success isn’t about money — it’s about whether I can make my father proud.”
Jok is currently working on gaining nonprofit status for the foundation. In the meantime, he is looking to recruit some Penn students to help with the project.
“If anyone out there at Penn would like to help, it would be great,” he said.
Some of Jok’s teammates like Gunter and Rosen have already expressed a desire to contribute in any way they can.
“Dau’s already trying to get me to commit 5 percent of my salary [to the foundation],” Rosen joked.
Though Jok knows that returning home this summer will be dangerous, he is encouraged by a recent decrease in violence. An area that has seen civil war between Africans and Arabs for years, Southern Sudan may soon gain independence as a result of a national referendum, he said.
Now, however, Jok is concerned about one thing — how his efforts may impact future generations of Sudanese youth.
“By changing the lives of 500 kids, you can change the lives of millions.” he said. “You can change a whole country.”
Two Quaker hoops players share their experiences from a recent service trip to Rwanda
by Mike Wisniewski | Wednesday, June 15, 2011 at 9:08 pm
Zack Rosen, a rising senior and two-time All-Ivy guard for the Penn basketball team, remembers learning about the Rwandan genocide while he was in high school. It had such a profound effect on him that when the opportunity arose for him to travel to the country in late May on a school-sponsored service trip, he took it.
“I got an email in December about the trip — I didn’t know if it was possible and I had all these reservations,” Rosen recalled. “But I reached out to Dau [Jok], and we just said ‘forget about all the reservations.’”
Jok, a rising sophomore and teammate of Rosen’s on the basketball team, knows about the violence in Africa all too well. When he was just six years old, his father was killed in his home country of Sudan in a civil war.
A dozen other Penn students made the journey to Africa with Rosen and Jok to provide help and resources to people in need. However, before reaching their main destination, the team stopped at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum, a place that Jok questioned and admitted was “hard to go [visit].”
“One interesting question that I raised was, ‘Why is the world so consumed with looking into the past? Why are we not looking into the future?’” Jok said. “We spend so much time, so many resources, and so much money looking into the Rwandan genocide, looking into the Holocaust, when we should be proactive about it, because there are genocides happening today.”
After the museum visit, they made their way to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. The Youth Village was designed to provide a home for orphans who lost their families during the genocide and children from all over Rwanda are brought in to live there.
“The most important aspect of the Village is that it gives kids there who are orphans of the genocide — who have no concept of family — it gives them a family, and they’re one big family there,” Rosen stated. “It gives them stability, and it exposes them to something that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Jok further explained that the purpose of the Village is “to heal the heart and to give back,” he said.
Once a week, the children serve the community in several different ways, whether it is by tutoring English at elementary schools, building houses for the local community or helping with farming.
In addition to his many experiences, Rosen was most impressed by the attitude of the children in the Village.
“They don’t see differences,” he explained. “They don’t allow themselves to look at differences and say, ‘We should not like each other because we’re different’ … They treat each other like we all wish we treated each other here.”
Rosen also noted the great optimism the children showed when working or studying.
“They get up at 5:30, walk about a half a mile to get a meal, then walk up a steep hill to get to class, and they smile the whole time,” Rosen said. “If you just look at Penn, and myself, we’re all guilty of it — how much time do we spend complaining about having to study? Those kids don’t look at anything like that.”
Rosen couldn’t say enough about how much he learned from the children there and their outlook of the world.
“I would talk about this for days — I want to talk about a game for about a second,” he quipped. “They had more of an effect on me than I had on them.”
Originally, when the group was finished in Rwanda, Jok had planned on going to Sudan while the others headed home. Unfortunately, a violent uprising occurred at about the same time, and he was convinced not to go.
Nevertheless, Jok will soon be starting up the Dut Jok Youth Foundation in Sudan, a program — named after his father — that will combine athletics with academics to provide the children of Sudan with more opportunities for their future.
“Our goal is to harness their God-given potential so they can reach that, and the mission is to empower these kids and close the gap after each generation,” Jok said.
To fund the program, Jok will use the money he was provided when he was named a recipient of the Davis 100 Projects for Peace Award.
“Kids will come to us after school, and most of the time with us will be spent doing an activity, and we’ll also spend time in discussions,” he said.
After-school activities will include basketball, soccer, flag football and track. All the equipment will be provided as well.
“It’s putting the power in the kids’ hands,” Jok explained. “In order for the country to be relevant — economically, socially — they have to empower the youth, so that’s the whole idea that we’re trying to accomplish. Empowering the youth one kid at a time.”
He was 17 when his grandfather was killed, caught in the crossfire of a war that has been raging for 20 years.
Dau Jok is not merely a victim of violence. He is a byproduct of it, born into its grasp and reared in a world where AK-47s were more readily available than pen and paper.
Until Jok, who just finished his freshman season at Penn, came to the United States eight years ago, the word peace was as foreign to him as the snow that greeted him when he settled in Des Moines, Iowa. In the Southern Sudan, the place Jok calls home, war is not news. It’s life, a two-decade long battle between the Africans and Arabs that has claimed an estimated 2 million lives and left a country in such poverty and disarray that people there are referred to as the “lost generation.”
But while outsiders and even international health organizations struggle to maintain hope, one 18-year-old believes steadfastly in it.
Jok, the child of violence, has plans to bring that rare gift of peace to his home country.
Peace will come in the form of soccer balls and basketballs, an after-school program and in time, a school building. Mostly it will come in the form of human kindness.
It sounds simple but Jok knows it will work.
How? Because it worked for him.
“There are a lot of people who took a chance on me, who told me I could be somebody,” said Jok, who played as a reserve for the Quakers this season. “It’s amazing when I look at myself, at who I was and who I am now. It tells me it can be done. You just need to show these kids that somebody cares for them, that not only can they be somebody, they already are somebody.”
Jok’s dreams are far more than a lofty vision. They are slowly becoming a reality. He has established the Dut Jok Youth Foundation, named in honor of his late father, and last month was named one of the recipients of the Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace award.
On Wednesday he and teammate Zack Rosen joined 12 other Penn students for a 12-day trip to Rwanda as part of a service project. When his classmates return home, Jok will continue on to the Southern Sudan, arriving in his home for the first time since 2003. Jok will blog about his trip for ESPN.com.
“I’m more excited than I am worried,” Jok said. “It’s like a dream come true. There’s so much I want to get done.”
The day they brought home the lifeless body of his father, a general in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Jok’s immediate reaction was to grab a gun himself.
The 6-year-old boy wanted revenge.
When kids in Des Moines teased him about his shoddy English or his gangly basketball skills, Jok’s first instinct was to respond with his fists.
Fight or flight? For Jok, it wasn’t a choice.
“We spent many hours talking about the idea that violence is not the answer,” said Bruce Koepple, who served as a mentor for Jok in Des Moines. “That wasn’t his mentality at first.”
Jok came to Iowa — as culturally and meteorologically opposite a world from Sudan as you could envision — with his mother and three siblings, the end of a circuitous journey for the family after Dut Jok was killed. Initially they moved to Rumbek, a larger town in Sudan and then continued on to Uganda.
In December 2003, they came to the United States, settling in Des Moines because of a large Sudanese refugee population there.
Like most kids in Africa, Jok grew up playing soccer, albeit a makeshift version — “we would blow up balloons and wrap them in bandages” — but in Iowa he discovered basketball. Jok spent hours in the local Y, mimicking the moves of the other kids he played against.
He continued to hone his game, attending skills camps and perfecting his jumper. His size — he’s 6-foot-4 — and 3-point shooting ability were enough to attract interest from some colleges but Jok was looking for more than just basketball.
He wanted an education. The kid who grew up writing in the sand because his school had no books or paper maintained a 3.9 grade-point average at Roosevelt High School.
When the University of Pennsylvania called — with the hook of basketball and the promise of an Ivy League education — Jok didn’t hesitate.
“Sports gave me discipline,” he said, “and academics, that’s the way to a better life. It’s the combination for me. If I didn’t have that balance I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t be in a position to help people.”
Dau Jok is apologizing.
In the middle of answering a question about what he hopes to do with his $10,000 in grant money and with his foundation, Jok stops and says, “I’m sorry. I know I’m talking a lot, but I’m really excited.”
The excitement is contagious. He is a burst of energy and a font of ideas, a kid who has his head in the clouds yet remains grounded to reality.
“He has been on a mission since the first day I met him,” Koepple said.
–Penn freshman Dau Jok
That mission finally has a direction. Jok has long believed that the secret to ending the strife in the Sudan lies in the hands of its children. Through education, encouragement and, most of all, options that don’t include violence, Jok is convinced that this generation can help restore the lost generation.
He conjured up the notion of a foundation named in honor of his father six months ago, imagining an organization that could provide the infrastructure needed to bolster kids. He would take the lessons he learned in the United States and apply them to Sudan. There would be real soccer balls and basketballs for kids to play with and to keep them busy. Girls, often married away before they are 16 and currently allowed to play only volleyball, would be introduced to new sports, their self-esteem bolstered.
There would be an after-school program where kids could work on their academics as well as learn about anger management and the spread of HIV. His foundation would sponsor a mandatory weekly service day, forcing kids to work productively and help one another; down the road, the country could host a national holiday, bringing together kids from every ethnic group in a collaborative effort to break down barriers.
And someday, if Jok has his way, there will be a secondary school, built with money from his foundation.
“It’s a lot, I know, but I want to harness the potential of our youth,” said Jok, who was inspired by his late uncle, Manute Bol. “If we don’t develop the leaders of tomorrow, we will never develop our country. They need to understand that there is more to this world than what they know. There are opportunities if you open your mind.”
What was once a plan now actually has some heft thanks to the Projects for Peace grant.
The four-year-old program began at the insistence of Davis, who just before her 100th birthday put up $1 million, challenging undergraduates to develop programs that could contribute to peace. She has since reissued her pledge annually, offering $1 million more each time.
When Jok decided to begin his foundation, he turned to Penn professor Dr. Harriet Joseph for help. Joseph is the director of the university’s Center for Research & Fellowships, and a self-described “basketball junkie.”
Impressed by his idea and stunned to learn about his background, Joseph went to Cheryl Shipman, who specifically handles students’ applications for grants and fellowships.
By then, the Project for Peace deadline was a little more than a week away.
“I remember it was an Ivy League [road game] weekend,” Joseph said. “Dau was writing the application on the bus and sending it to Cheryl. We had no idea if it would work but we decided to let it fly and see if it goes. And it went.”
Jok’s proposal for the Dut Jok Youth Foundation was one of 104 awarded the $10,000 grant.
Armed now with his grant money and a donation of more than 1,000 soccer balls that will await him when he arrives in Sudan, Jok hopes to meet with the country’s ministers of sport and education and talk about his plans.
The visit — which will extend until June 12 — will be an emotional one for Jok. He returns to the place where his father and grandfather were killed, a country he hasn’t laid eyes on since he was a small boy. There was a time, Jok admits, that such a trip would surely stir his anger and give rise to the cauldron of violence he long ago buried inside him.
Not anymore. Jok, who has family he is eager to visit, returns home not as an angry child but as a man with a mission.
“I’m a voice for the kid who understands nothing but violence,” he said. “I’m a voice of a kid who can’t go to school. I’m a voice of a kid who doesn’t have food to eat or water to drink. The work doesn’t stop here. There is lots to be done.”
As Jok speaks, it is hard not to believe that he, barely a man himself, is the person to do it.
“He’s going to change the world,” Koepple said, without a trace of sarcasm. “I have no doubt about that. He will change the world.”
Click here for Part 2