Dozens of students from mostly all-girls schools throughout the area poured onto War Memorial Plaza in front of Baltimore City Hall on Friday afternoon, pumping signs in the air and chanting "bring back our girls."
They were there to add their voices to the many around the world calling for the release of more than 200 Nigerian girls abducted three weeks ago by extremist group Boko Haram when they showed up for school, defying the group's opposition to the education of women.
The students from schools such as the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, Maryvale Preparatory School and Friends School of Baltimore said they felt a camaraderie for the girls thousands of miles away.
"It felt really personal," said Rae'ven Hill, an 18-year-old from Pikesville who attends Maryvale. "It makes me feel blessed that I can get an education and not be fearful that something like that could happen to me."
The rally of schoolgirls was organized by Baltimore mother and retired teacher Anna Klein, who said she felt sickened the first time she heard news reports about the girls' plight. She expressed her anger on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, but felt that complaining on social media wasn't enough.
"It's 2014; how could we allow this atrocity to occur," she said she asked herself one night in bed. "We needed to rally."
The Baltimore event was one of a number around the world organized in hopes of getting the Nigerian government to take a more active role in helping to free the girls. The Obama administration has deployed a team of military and civilian advisers to help in the search, and members of Congress have introduced bipartisan legislation condemning the kidnappings.
High-profile figures, including first lady Michelle Obama, are promoting a social media campaign (#BringBackOurGirls) pushing for the girls' release.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said that "high-profile or no-profile," the issue was one everyone should stand behind. The kidnappings can be used to bring more awareness to violence against women, she said.
"Unfortunately, this type of violence against woman and girls is not uncommon," Rawlings-Blake said. "It is not uncommon halfway around the world in Nigeria, and it is not uncommon right here in the United States. This is why our rage at this atrocity should not be a passing fad but a wake-up call."
The Baltimore schoolgirls have been discussing the kidnappings in classes and during lunchroom conversations. At Maryvale, it was one of the issues some girls asked to be included in the daily prayer.
Leah Blacks, a 15-year-old 10th-grader at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, said she hopes she can serve as the voice of the missing girls.
"I feel sorry for them," she said. "How can this happen just because they want an education? I hope what I am doing can help so they will let them go."
The kidnappings hit especially hard for Ugochi Ihenatu, a 17-year-old senior at Friends headed to Brown University in the fall. Her family members are part of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria. She visits them frequently and said retaliation by Islamic extremists is not unusual.
"I'm saddened to see girls my age held captive somewhere because of the idea that Western education is wrong," she said. "I could have been one of those girls."
In America, Ihenatu said, she can stand up for those girls. "I demand that we all do a part to bring back our girls," she said.
Klein doesn't know what to do next to help the girls, but she promises it won't end with just one rally.
"We're not going to stay quiet," Klein said.
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