In November, OSI-Baltimore began receiving monthly donations from Amaal Shah-Nelson (ABOVE, RIGHT), a six-year-old Baltimore City resident and a student at Mount Washington School, his neighborhood public school. We were so excited about our young new donor that we reached out to his mother, Seema Shah-Nelson, to find out more about how Amaal decided to become an OSI supporter.
Q. How did you and your husband approach the idea of giving with your children?
When I was a kid, my parents donated in my name to sponsor a child in another country. I would get letters from the child that we sponsored and I loved it. It made me feel really connected, and like I could actively help people who were not in my immediate environment.
So we decided to give our kids options for organizations that we could donate to in their names. We suggested Oxfam, the ACLU, National Resources Defense Council, the ASPCA, and OSI-Baltimore. We chose those organizations because we wanted a broad range of issues that they could choose from. Amaal chose OSI-Baltimore. When we explained what each organization did, one of the things we said about OSI-Baltimore is that OSI works to improve public schools in Baltimore. Amaal said that he wanted all kids in Baltimore to be able to go to a good school like his school. So, we set up a monthly donation to OSI-Baltimore. My 9-year-old son Rishi picked the ASPCA. I thought it was really interesting that both children chose things that were really close to their lived experience. Amaal with school, and Rishi because we have a dog that he loves.
Q. Are there other ways you try to connect your kids to social justice issues or activism?
Yes. We explain issues to them and obviously my 9-year-old understands them in a different way than my 6-year-old does. We explain that we communicate with our government with our votes and also through public protest. This is part of democracy; this is what it is to be American. We’ve discovered that our kids do best at marches instead of rallies because they can move their bodies and that works for them. So, we make these trips to DC and we stop in the Air and Space Museum, then we do a march, then we go out for hot chocolate and a donut. Amaal has a little bongo that he beats and chants, and they actually really love it. It’s fun. They don’t like the rallies. They feel like rallies are for grown-ups who stand around and just want to listen to people talk.
Q. Does Amaal get as excited about his donations as you did when you were a child?
OSI director Diana Morris sent him a note to thank him for the support and he was so excited—he’s 6. He’s psyched to get anything in the mail with his name. But it was hand-written and it was written directly to him and he was thrilled, he was so proud of it, and when his dad came home, he had to show him.
We get the texts every month that say “thank you for your donation,” so I show him those and he gets very excited. And when we see OSI-Baltimore on the news or we see updates on Facebook, I show that to him and say, “You’re helping make that happen,” and he feels like he’s doing something in the world. He gets really proud, like “OSI-Baltimore is sort of my organization.”
To set up a monthly donation, go to: osibaltimore.org/donate