Refugees welcome sign

Today, I tell a story. It is both familiar and out of the ordinary. It focuses on a new friend whose personal and family history merits widespread attention in Columbus, Ohio, and across the nation. The family is second- and third-generation Palestinian Americans who contribute in remarkable ways to our society, culture, and polity.

For understandable but not acceptable reasons, it is much more common to tell stories about Black, Latino, and Asian brothers and sisters than Middle Easterners. Prejudice remains.

The grandfather to today’s younger generations emigrated from Lebanon to Columbus 40 years ago. Born in Palestine, he immigrated to Lebanon at age 10 during the 1947 war. After graduating from high school and university, he worked with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for more than 25 years. As a refugee, he had a life-long commitment to education and service for which he is remembered by all who knew him. He was devoted both to adaptation and to the transmission of Arabic and his heritage.

He, his wife, and his children moved to Columbus in the mid-1980s. He found a position at The Ohio State University Library in order to assist his children’s attendance at the university. From prominence in the Middle East and the United Nations, he devoted himself in Ohio to his children’s and grandchildren’s education and humane development. Nine children graduated from college, six from OSU. The oldest son, a graduate engineer, set the foundation for the family’s base and success in their “new world.”

His grandchildren grew up knowing that they were future Buckeyes. They valued OSU’s role in their grandfather’s successful transition to the United States, Ohio, and Columbus. All are practicing professionals across the country.

Ameer is a 26-year-old graduate of The Ohio State University. Proudly and remarkably, he is one of 40 OSU graduates in his and his parents’ generations. A biology and pre-med student, he is now in public life. After graduation, he has worked for three years as national policy coordinator and now national campaigns manager for PERIOD. The Menstrual Movement (2018-2020) and a 2020 and 2021 civic engagement fellow for MPower Change, the largest Muslim-led social and racial justice organization in the United States. More about those later.

Ameer was director of operations for U.S. Senate candidate Morgan Harper. That’s how I met him. Of many young people I deal with in academia, the media, political office, nonprofits, and advocacy groups, Ameer is among the most impressive and responsible.

In his own words, “Coming from a family of refugees, I was born into activism. My parents, born in a war-torn refugee camp, had no option but to fight for their rights and peacefully protest. Growing up, my parents made sure that every summer between the 5th grade to my senior year in high school, I visited the refugee camp that they lived in and gave back to that community in some way. It helped shape the person I developed into; it gave me a sense of urgency to help others and build a platform to amplify the voices of those being ignored. It allowed me to grow passionate about a number of issues including health care, climate change, gun violence, and gender equality.”

While an undergraduate biological sciences major in 2013-2018 (after graduating from Columbus State), Ameer was a student researcher at the College of Public Health, supporting research to test hazards in vulnerable communities on the south side of Columbus, anda student volunteer at Riverside Methodist Hospital helping patients and visitors.Importantly, he joined, an organization focused on “serving periods, educating the masses on issues surrounding menstruation, combating period stigma, and campaigning for menstrual equity.”

With a friend and classmate, he started OSU’s chapter. They “fought against the ‘tampon tax’ and worked with the administration at our university to provide menstrual products in 180+ restrooms. It was all people with me on that team who allowed me to grow and learn more about this issue. They gave me the tools and space to step out of my comfort zone and be a part of something bigger than myself.”

On graduation, Ameer joined the national as policy coordinator. With a team, he worked to lead a new campaign for National Period Day on October 19th. They focused on rallying people in all 50 states to combat the “pink tax” on menstrual products and fight to require schools, shelters, and prisons to provide free, healthy menstrual products in restrooms. Unlike many others, especially men, Ameer learned that “looking deeper into the issue of period poverty, it’s truly about gender equality. It’s interesting that we consider toilet paper a necessity but not menstrual products. Having more men involved in this movement is essential to making a lasting impact. This is far from only a women’s issue, it’s a human rights issue.... Joining this fight, I was originally unsure how I could speak out in support of this issue, but I realized it was about doing more listening than speaking and learning where I could fit in and have the largest impact.”

While working with, Ameer served on the advisory boardof The Conversationalist, amultimedia platform and digital community empowering young people everywhere to have “conversations that matter.” This community has more than 15,000 young people who chat 24/7 on the Geneva app, across social platforms, and the Conversationalist Podcast. “The Conversationalist is dedicated to breaking Gen Z’ers outside of their echo chambers and amplifying the voices of the next generation.”

Ameer’s next major commitment was as a 2020 and 2021 Civic Engagement Fellow with MPower Change, the largest Muslim-American information and advocacy group in the nation. He worked with the Organizing Department to manage outreach and relationships with Muslim leaders and volunteers, especially in battleground states. He also assisted in planning and managing training, virtual phone banks, webinars, voter registration events, and the #MyMuslimVote 2020 summit.

Ameer is currently pursuing a Master of Science in Public Health & Policy degree program at The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. He plans to return to advancing political equity.

Ohioans need to hear and read more stories like Ameer Abdul and his family’s.


Harvey J. Graff is Professor Emeritus of English and History and Ohio Eminent Scholar at The Ohio State University. He is the author of many books on social history including The Literacy Mythand The Dallas Myth. Searching for Literacy is forthcoming this year. His specialties include the history and present condition of literacy and education including higher education, children and families, cities, interdisciplinarity, and contemporary politics, culture, and society.