Every Wednesday, under the directive of Congresswoman Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), members of the U.S. Congress wear red to remember the 276 girls kidnapped on April 14, 2014, from their school in Chibok, Nigeria, by the terrorist organization Boko Haram.
Wilson, a former school principal, said she strictly enforces the dress code through constant reminders to her peers in an attempt to keep the tragedy relevant until all the Chibok girls are home.
In the immediate months that followed the abductions, 57 of the Chibok girls escaped, and a series of negotiations between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram have since led to the release of an addition 106 girls.
But 113 girls currently remain in Boko Haram’s custody.
“We will fight until every single girl is released,” Wilson said Friday during a panel session at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 47th Annual Legislative Conference.
During the session, Wilson recounted her struggle to draw attention from fellow lawmakers to the matter.
“It was quiet in the United States Congress,” she said. “No one was saying anything about it. So I said ‘I’ve got to call attention to this.'”
Through persistent speeches on the House floor about the cause and legislation, Wilson helped lead the charge in Congress’s condemnation of Boko Haram’s actions. She introduced a resolution, which passed, directing the State and Defense departments to develop a joint five-year strategy to help combat Boko Haram.
By May, the story eventually gained international attention and sparked outrage, with even then-first lady Michelle Obama tweeting a picture of herself holding a note card that read “#BringBackOurGirls,” the hashtag that represented the movement on social media calling for the girls’ return.
Obiageli Ezekwesili, co-founder of Bring Back Our Girls, an advocacy group calling for the girls’ safe return, said she is appreciative of Wilson’s effort to keep the story alive, but ultimately holds the Nigerian government accountable for the girls’ recovery.
“The Nigerian government must fight back vigorously to show that our humanity will not be assaulted,” Ezekwesili said.
She said she stayed silent when Boko Haram killed at least 29 students by torching several buildings at a Nigerian college just weeks before the Chibok kidnappings. But she says this time she will not be quiet and will persist in getting justice for the girls.
“I will persist calling out the government until the actions necessary to find the girls, get them justice [and] send them back to school are taken,” Ezekwesili said.
Ifunanya Maduka, director of the “Waiting for Hassana,” a short documentary about the Chibok girls’ story, said Nigerian-Americans can help support the girls by keeping their narrative alive.
“The ‘bring back our girls’ hashtag had over 2.5 million retweets — it was one of the highest retweeted hashtags of 2014 — but just like that the world pretty much moved on,” said Maduka, a Nigerian immigrant raised in Columbia, Maryland.
Maduka, a former educator and founding member of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, said that over her year of filming, she noticed the rescued were not given much support through their rehabilitation and had to assist in buying books, bed sheets, toiletries and transportation.
“Nigerian-Americans should show up should show up to speeches of Nigerian officials”
in the United States,” Maduka said. “In every room that they walk into, they should know [Nigerians globally] will show up in those rooms and keep [them] accountable.”
Boko Haram has reportedly killed more than 20,000 people, including at least 470 this year, forced 1.5 million people from their homes and abducted more than 2,000 people.