The Department of African American Studies at VCU hosted a book signing and talk Friday for Bol Gai Deng, a VCU alumnus running for president of South Sudan.
The event promoted “Bol Gai Deng: Legacy of an African Freedom Fighter,” a collection of stories describing Deng’s escape from slavery and his life in the U.S. as a refugee.
Speakers during the event included Deng, his campaign manager Donald Blake, African American studies department chair Shawn Utsey, political science associate professor Bill Newmann and former NBC12 anchor Andrea McDaniel, who authored the book.
This is the first book McDaniel has written and published. She said she chose to write about Deng’s story because “it needed to be told.”
“We’re talking about a lot of horrible things that happened,” McDaniel said. “He’s glossed them over, but he’s been through hell and back — and he’s the most optimistic person that you will ever ever meet — and all he cares about is his people in South Sudan.”
Utsey has known Deng since he was a student at VCU. He said Deng’s “commitment to his country and village” has always impressed him.
“Deng [has] never forsaken his people,” Utsey said. “He’s always been committed to try and reach back and make Sudan a better place.”
Newmann was one of Deng’s professors at VCU. Newmann said, through stories Deng told in class, he was able to “get a picture of the life he had led,” and was “impressed by his perseverance.”
“This is amazing because he shouldn’t be here,” Newmann said. “He shouldn’t be anywhere at this point, and yet he’s persevered through all of this.”
Deng has always had high praise for VCU and said the school was a place that changed him — and continues to change many students today.
“VCU is a great place to be,” Deng said. “You don’t know this now, but when you get out, you will be a different person.”
Deng said they are planning on having another book signing event in the future.
The current president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, has been in office since 2011 — before the people of South Sudan voted for independence, splitting the nation in two.
Voting for the presidential election of South Sudan was originally supposed to be held in 2015, but the South Sudanese parliament voted to amend the country’s transitional constitution from 2011 to extend their terms to 2018. It is currently unclear when elections will be held.