Wednesday, February 6, 2008

When the semi-fictional character Mahree Bok is bigger than all of the presidential candidates combined

You never know what's going to attract the readers of a blog.

Yesterday was Super Tuesday, and I stayed fairly focused on Super Tuesday in general and the California primary in particular. Of my eight blog posts yesterday, 6 1/2 of them focused on yesterday's elections. The exceptions were the post about my new cell phone holster, and the one that noted that NBC and Fox were showing "The Biggest Loser" and "American Idol" instead of covering you-know-what.

But that wasn't what truly interested my readers yesterday.

According to Google Analytics, the post that attracted nearly half of the blog traffic yesterday was my "Mahree Bok mystery" post from March 12, 2007.

If you don't know who Mahree Bok is, then you don't have kids. Or you're a fascist. Or something. So let's turn to the all-accurate Internet and get the story as told by Rhonda Cluff at

The Color of Friendship is a true story of Congressman Ron Dullam and...

Ron Dullam? Never mind. Let's try's product description of The Color of Friendship instead:

Inspired by actual events comes this Emmy Award-winning movie about two girls from different worlds who learn the ultimate lesson about tolerance and friendship. When African-American Congressman Ron Dellums and his daughter Piper (Shadia Simmons, ZENON: THE ZEQUEL), greet their South African exchange student Mahree (Lindsey Haun, BRING IT ON), they're surprised to discover she's white. But no one's more surprised than Mahree herself, a product of the Apartheid system, who's been raised to view dark-skinned people as second-class citizens. Only if Piper and Mahree can learn to see past their differences will they discover the friendship of a lifetime.

However, as I noted in my previous post, there technically is no "Mahree."

And while the link no longer seems to work, there is still information online about the Piper Dellums story. Sadly, the South African probably didn't make it to Eastvale or Jurupa Valley. Here's something that was written in June 2007, three months after my original post:

No one really knows what happened to her. Her real name was Carrie and the Dellums family lost touch with her. Piper Dellums wrote a short story about when Carrie came and stayed with her and her family. It was called Simunye. In the story she speculates that Carrie(Mahree) could have been killed due to her activist role against the apartheid.

There a quite a few stories as to what happened to Carrie. One being that she was beaten to death at the age of 16 for her activist role.

Another was that she disappeared along with many other activists.

Sadly we may never know what happened.

And no, I haven't yet searched my library for Simunye. But I kinda sorta have an idea of where to look:

An established and recognized author, Piper has published children's stories with Viking Press/Penguin Putnum, edited by Jill Davis in New York City. Her latest story, SIMUNYE, can be read in "Open Your Eyes: Extraordinary Experiences in Faraway Places." The story is an autobiographical one about a white South African exchange student sent to live in her home in 1976 in Washington, D.C. The story was adapted into a Disney film entitled, "The Color of Friendship". The film won two Emmy Awards and an NAACP Image Award.

When you dig, it makes sense that Disney would make the movie, since Open Your Eyes... was originally targeted for the teenage market. From School Library Journal:

Sometimes the most life-altering moments in young people's lives come as a result of being exposed to another culture. [Jill] Davis seeks to explore these changes by gathering stories and memoirs from noted authors, among them Lois Lowry, Susie Morgenstern, Katherine Paterson, Graham Salisbury, and Jean Fritz. While most of the selections focus on evolved thinking while on foreign sojourns, two of the best are set in the United States. In a story guaranteed to make readers laugh, howl, and then cry, Piper Dellums, the privileged daughter of an African-American congressman, looks forward to making a sister of a South African exchange student. However, the teen who arrives at her doorstep is white and makes the mistake of thinking that her host family must be the congressman's servants. In "Looking for America," Elizabeth Partridge spends some time in the South and is astonished to find that a black cook who prepares the food can not drink from the family's glasses, but must use a mason jar. At his evocative best, Harry Mazer takes readers back to when he was a teenaged GI, bailing out of a flaming World War II bomber and wondering what happened to a friend who never returned. In this time of rising xenophobia, the message of these stories assumes new importance. It is best summed up by Davis's choice of a Mark Twain quotation: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness."-Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY

However, this book was not universally praised:

It's not that good of a book. It's mostly pointless stories of people. Everyone knows these kinds of thories (sic) anyway. --Ashley, 17

But there's possibly another source for the movie - a 1990 source:

"In 1990," [Alan Sacks] remembers, "I read this story about California congressman Ron Dellums."

Sacks states that he obtained the rights to the story in 2000, working with Ron Dellums, and reiterates that the Dellums family lost touch with the South African girl.

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piper said...

I am floored and amazed that what feels to be just a season of time in the journey that was once my childhood is now a film, book, and blog based suggestively in a search for some imminent truth...the only truth worth embracing is that we are the universal family of man and womankind...When we detach our, souls and love based on the temporal things of flesh and the body politic we destroy the very foundation of our purpose...The truth is that Carrie was my sister in a world and time that would not and did not allow us to be. Much peace...TEACH THE CHILDREN WELL
Piper Dellums

piper said...

PS I'm a mommy now too...and raised my toddlers in South Africa immediate post Apartheid..built homes, built relationships, built futures and dreams...spilled many tears on a land that held historical overflow of the same...many tears..combined with the salt of slave labor and the blood of millions of can call them all Carrie, Mahree, Mandela, chose.....together they bled for us all...for our children
Piper Dellums

ChrmdRcks20 said...

Hello. I was wondering if you had found any new information about the real Mahree Bok, Carrie. It's so odd that in the age of internet, there is little to no information about her. The Color of Friendship was a pretty successful movie, and still no one has been able to find information about what happened to the real person that was represented in the movie.

I hope you have found more information about her. If so, would you mind creating another quick blog about it possibly?

Empoprises said...

I apologize for the late response. I quit blogging in this particular blog over a year ago, and just returned to moderate comments. I haven't returned to the topic of Mahree or Carrie, so Piper's comments above are probably the best information available at this time.

SHELLY RAE said...

Hello! I found your page after recently re-watching the Color of Friendship. After searching around online for a little bit, I think I may of found a copy of Piper's short story. I haven't purchased it yet so I can't confirm, but I think it may be included in this book: