They gathered under a warm spring sun to express their support for children stolen halfway around the world. Their chants echoed off the brick buildings at the heart of Wichita State University.
“Bring back our girls! Bring back our girls! Bring back our girls!”
More than 200 people converged for a march around the campus to draw attention to the kidnapping of nearly 300 girls from a school in Nigeria by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on April 14.
The kidnappers, who believe girls should not be educated, took the captives to their base in a heavily forested region of Nigeria. The group’s leader has threatened to sell the girls into slavery.
While some of the kidnapped girls have managed to escape, most are still being held prisoner, said Chinyere Okafor, a professor of English and women’s studies at WSU.
“We are gathered here … to raise awareness for what is going on, to show our anger that something like that is happening in our world today,” Okafor said.
Olabisi Pinheiro, president of the Nigerian Student Association at WSU, called the march “a cause that is so close to my heart because I’m a girl.”
“I can’t even begin to imagine what these girls are feeling,” Pinheiro said.
Organizers put the march together in less than two days. They were hoping for a few dozen people to attend. Instead, they got a few hundred.
“This is amazing,” Danielle Johnson, program coordinator for the Office of Multicultural Affairs, said as she looked out at the crowd that marched from the Rhatigan Student Center to the Plaza of Heroines.
Some in the crowd held up signs such as “#BringBackOurGirls” and “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls.” The support for the return of the kidnapped girls cuts across cultures and countries, Johnson said.
“It hurts all of us,” WSU student Brandon Martin said, explaining why he joined the march.
After hearing about the march, Ashlyn Herzberg said, “it just felt like something I had to do.”
Pinheiro urged the crowd to use social media to keep the public from forgetting about the kidnapped students.
“Don’t let this awareness die!” she shouted.