Bring Back Our Girls and Let's Stop Ignoring Africa

Women attend a demonstration calling on the government to rescue kidnapped school girls of a government secondary school Chib
Women attend a demonstration calling on the government to rescue kidnapped school girls of a government secondary school Chibok, in Lagos, Nigeria, Monday May 5, 2014. Their plight ? and the failure of the Nigerian military to find them ? has drawn international attention to an escalating Islamic extremist insurrection that has killed more than 1,500 so far this year. Boko Haram, the name means "Western education is sinful," has claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping and threatened to sell the girls. The claim was made in a video seen Monday. The British and U.S. governments have expressed concern over the fate of the missing students, and protests have erupted in major Nigerian cities and in New York. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

As I stood in front of the Nigerian Consulate this weekend helping to lead a prayer vigil for the nearly 300 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, I looked out across the crowd at the faces of children, parents, activists and leaders all gathered in support of a crisis inflicting innocents overseas. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the First Lady, Chirlane McCray, brought their daughter Chiara with them to this rally, as many parents also brought their girls and boys in a show of solidarity. Watching the crowd peacefully come together, I reflected on other conflicts in Africa and questioned why they were so under-reported and often ignored. The reality is, until things reach a critical point, the world tends to pay no attention to hostilities or challenges in Africa. If you don't believe me, just take a look at modern history.

Twenty years ago, tribal disputes between Tutsis and Hutus led to the death of hundreds of thousands in Rwanda. The global response, including from the United States, was very delayed. Fast-forward to the crisis in Sudan where ethnic and religious conflict tore the nation literally into two separate countries. Once again, international intervention was delayed at best. As we continue to aggressively push for a safe return of the missing Nigerian girls, one thing we must also do is come to terms with the fact that Africa on a whole has been ignored, under-supported and dismissed for far too long. Some of this is a result of arrogance, some of it is racism and some of it is a lack of understanding about what's going on. But whatever the reason, it is simply inexcusable.

At this very moment, there are a host of clashes, disagreements and battles taking place in several areas throughout the African continent. Some are religious, some are ethnic and some are the result of economic despair. Right now, there are tribal and internal wars that are rising to alarming proportions. And right now, certain areas are incubators of terrorism and other nefarious activities. Yet where is the discussion or solution to resolve these issues? Where are the increased trade deals or aid deals with a continent comprised of so many naturally occurring rich minerals? It's time to have a sincere dialogue about this and time to stop acting like the world hasn't neglected Africa.

It's simply astonishing that during an era when there is so much advancement in society, many are left facing daunting threats like having their little girls kidnapped while attending school. It is outrageous, it is horrific and it is inexcusable. The international community must do more in terms of economic and humanitarian support. We -- including the U.S. -- cannot continue to turn a blind eye towards the harsh reality facing so many suffering in the shadows. We must educate more about the complexities in several nations, and collectively create solutions so that no child fears getting an education or walking down the street.

When New Yorkers marched and rallied on Saturday in support of the missing Nigerian schoolgirls, I felt a glimmer of hope. It's important that we understand how those children are connected to our children. We live in a globalized world and we can no longer ignore the complexities in Africa. We must bring these girls home, but we must also come home to the fact that Africa cannot be a forgotten continent and an afterthought in the foreign affairs of this nation and the West in general. We will not allow Boko Haram or any other terrorist group to win. It is our duty as human beings to do better. We can prevent tragedies like this kidnapping by giving Africans as much priority as anywhere else.

As the world's second-largest and second-most populous continent, Africa is us, and we are Africa.