Manute had a gentle nature and an unmistakable humor. His faith guided his advocacy for his fellow Sudanese brothers and sisters. Manute was the son of a Dinka tribal chief, and was given the name Manute, which means ‘special blessing’ and he was indeed special. What made him special was not his height, but his heart.
Manute often returned to Sudan to visit refugee camps, and subsequently created the Ring True Foundation to assist those less fortunate than himself. Suffice it to say that Bol gave away almost every penny that he had to help those trapped in the civil war in South Sudan, a conflict that has always been far off the radar of American editors and reporters.
Bol was very active in charitable causes throughout his career. In fact, he said he spent much of the money he made during a 10-year NBA career supporting various causes related to his war-ravaged nation of birth, Sudan. He frequently visited Sudanese refugee camps, where he was treated like royalty. In 2001 Bol was offered a post as minister of sport by the Sudanese government. Bol, who was Christian, refused because one of the pre-conditions was converting to Islam. Later Bol was hindered from leaving the country by the Sudanese government, who accused him of supporting the Dinka-led Christian rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. The Sudanese government refused to grant him an exit visa unless he came back with more money. Assistance by supporters in the United States, including Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, raised money to provide Bol with plane tickets to Cairo, Egypt. After 6 months of negotiations with U.S. consulate officials regarding refugee status, Bol and his family were finally able to leave Egypt and return to the United States.
Bol established the Ring True Foundation in order to continue fund-raising for Sudanese refugees. He gave most of his earnings (an estimated $3.5 million) to their cause. In 2002, Fox TV agreed to broadcast the telephone number of his Ring True Foundation in exchange for Bol’s agreement to appear on their Celebrity Boxing show. After the referee goaded, “If you guys don’t box, you won’t get paid,” he scored a third-round victory over former football player William “The Refrigerator” Perry.
In the fall of 2002, Bol signed a one-day contract with the Indianapolis Ice of the Central Hockey League. Even though he couldn’t skate, the publicity generated by his single game appearance helped to raise money to assist children in Sudan. Bol once suited up as a horse jockey for similar reasons.
Bol was involved in the April 2006 Sudan Freedom Walk, a three-week march from the United Nations building in New York to the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C.. The event was organized by Simon Deng, a former Sudanese swimming champion (currently a lifeguard at Coney Island) who was a longtime friend of Bol. Deng, who was a slave for three years from the age of nine, is from another tribe in Southern Sudan. His Sudan Freedom Walk is especially aimed at finding a solution to the genocide in Darfur (western Sudan), but it also seeks to raise awareness of the modern day slavery and human rights abuses throughout Sudan. Bol spoke in New York at the start of the Walk, and in Philadelphia at a rally organized by former hunger striker Nathan Kleinman.
During his time in Egypt, Bol ran a basketball school in Cairo. One of his pupils was a fellow Sudanese refugee; Chicago Bulls player Luol Deng, the son of a former Sudanese cabinet minister. Deng later moved to the United States to further his basketball career, continuing a close relationship with Bol.
On June 19, 2010 Manute Bol died at 47 from Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. A salute to Mr. Bol took place on the floor of the Unites States Senate just a few days after his death. His legacy of peace and service will live on.