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Chicago rally for kidnapped Nigerian girls planned for Saturday

Four female students government secondary school Chibok who were abducted by gunmen reunited with their families walk together Chibok NigeriApril

Four female students of government secondary school Chibok, who were abducted by gunmen and reunited with their families, walk together in Chibok, Nigeria on April 21. They are among the 53 girls who escaped abduction by Islamic extremist kidnappers. The girls did not want to be identified by name and refused to speak to reporters when they were photographed in Chibok, the town from which the mass kidnapping of more than 300 girls took place on April 15. | Haruna Umar/AP

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Updated: June 10, 2014 6:51AM



In the clip from a Nigerian television news program, the two teen girls speak quickly, animatedly, in their Hausa dialect, of their middle-of-the-night kidnapping on April 15.

The two, among 53 who escaped from their abductors, were speaking at a community meeting on the grounds of the burned-out Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, where they were kidnapped, as relatives of the 276 girls still missing wept, pain tangible in the faces of mothers.

That pain has fueled worldwide outrage expressed in a social media campaign to save the girls, ages 15 to 18, who were abducted by an Islamic extremist group in that West African country. And the #BringBackOurGirls movement will hit Chicago Saturday, with a rally at Daley Center Plaza.

“I went to a federal government college in Nigeria. I understand what that opportunity meant to these girls and their families,” said Toyin Kolawole, 36, of Plainfield, a business consultant who immigrated to the U.S. 10 years ago and is an organizer for the rally. It is expected to draw about 1,000 people.

“What has happened to these girls is just heart-wrenching. Who wouldn’t be moved?” she said.

Chicagoans are preparing to join organizers in Boston, Dallas and Detroit in #BringBackOurGirls rallies this Mother’s Day weekend. The United States and Great Britain were sending military, intelligence and law-enforcement experts to Nigeria to aid in the search for the kidnapped girls.

At the same time, the extremist group abducted eight more girls and massacred 310 civilians.

The April 15 abduction was part of a reign of terror by Boko Haram, a group that the U.S. designated a terrorist organization last year. Amnesty International blames the group for 1,500 deaths this year in Africa’s most populous country.

The girls’ plight was a blip on international radar until social media drove it to the forefront. The hashtag, originating in Nigeria, has been tweeted 1 million times.

“Nigerians in the diaspora have been mobilizing in Chicago and across the U.S., to keep the pressure on,” said Ewa Ewa, chairman of Chicago’s Nigerian American Public Professionals Association. “This is an abomination perpetrated by an extremist group whose sole purpose is to destabilize Nigeria. Nigeria waited too long to seek international help.”

Members of Chicago’s Nigerian-American community met this week with the Rev. Jesse Jackson of Rainbow/PUSH, who said that he is prepared to travel to Nigeria to aid in negotiations.

“Africa is on the bottom of our foreign policy agenda. News is always slow to come out of Africa, and action even slower. It’s how we missed Rwanda, and the Congo,” said Jackson, referring to countries where genocidal wars raged before drawing international intervention.

“We’ve been to Nigeria four times in the past year. We’re considering going,” Jackson said. “I have been in touch with the State Department and with the United Nations, but I will not go in conflict with the president’s efforts.”

Saturday’s rally, which kicks off at noon, with a nearly 3-mile march through the Loop, is organized by Nigerian groups, civil rights and women’s rights groups, and other activists.

Chicago blogger Wendy Widom, who started the Facebook event page #BringBackOurGirls Chicago, said she is awed by the power of this social media movement thus far.

Online petitions demanding international intervention have garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures. Facebook and Google Plus pages have organized rallies in countries across the globe, with the movement often propelled by the famous, such as first lady Michelle Obama, who tweeted #BringBackOurGirls on Wednesday. France and China also pledged support.

“I saw an article on Salon.com on April 30th about the girls and about media not covering it, and as a mom myself, I was outraged,” said Widom, of the North Side. “I wrote a post about it May 1st that got 130,000 views and 72,000 shares. It’s been amazing, inspiring, how strongly and passionately people are reacting to this horror. We want those girls brought back.”

mihejirika@suntimes.com

Twitter: @Maudlynei



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