Justice Oregon for Black Lives has reached a milestone moment. The initiative, launched in 2020, has just passed the halfway mark on its original five-year timeline, with more than $15.9 million awarded to 105 Black-led and Black-serving organizations in Oregon. In addition to announcing the latest round of awards, we thought now would be a good time to check in with Program Officers Allister Byrd and Nancy Haque on the challenges and lessons learned so far. Here are highlights of our conversation, edited for length and clarity:
With all of the local, national and international momentum leading up to the launch of Justice Oregon for Black Lives, what were some of your hopes coming into this initiative?
Allister: My original hope was that we could do some really radical, broad-thinking, innovative stuff. I heard in those initial community conversations [that Meyer held with Black community members and leaders] that although $5 million a year felt like a drop in the bucket for some folks, others felt that nothing like this at this scale had been done before in Oregon. We really had an opportunity to show that if there can be some form of reparative action for the Black community here, then it can happen across the United States. And that can benefit all communities, not just ours. So that was my hope, and that's still my hope for the initiative.
Understanding that $25 million is a significant investment, but that the need and ambition extends far beyond that — how do you measure success and can you speak to some of the challenges?
Allister: First, we’ve got to meet people where they're at right now in order to get to that bigger state. We’ve been fortunate to have the resources to help catalyze a lot of important and exciting work.
I really love this idea that we're not just filling in the hole, but we're actually tilling the soil. We understand that organizations who are actively hiring staff will want to keep growing their capacity, but they can't do that if the funding is not always going to be there. One of the ways we’ll know we're successful is if the things that we do through this initiative live beyond its time frame.
Nancy: How can we make sure that people and organizations have what they need so they can imagine that bigger, better future? One of the reasons I joined Meyer is because this initiative made me believe there's a commitment to racial justice. It's really indicative of what our values are, how we set up this program for success. So the depth of that commitment is reflected in the grantmaking budget. But it’s also about the operating budget, the staffing and other resourcing for the initiative, all of those details as well.
Allister: To be in this role of program officer is challenging. We have to consider what's the level of political education about each of [Justice Oregon’s priority] areas that you have to have in order to actually make informed decisions about funding. That's something that we just have never really had enough time to deal with because we're trying to get the money out. So I think balancing that urgency with what it really takes to support a community-informed process is the tension that we're always navigating. I hold all that, right? Of loving the work, but also not having enough time or capacity to do everything.
Also, launching a tremendously ambitious, community-informed effort at this size and scale is already a tall order. Doing it in the middle of a pandemic brought in a whole other set of challenges. Like so many other organizations, our leadership changed and we had to adjust to that loss and keep on going. (D’Artagnan Caliman, Justice Oregon’s first director, left Meyer in February to join the 1803 fund as vice president of partnerships.)
Tell me more about the importance of community in Justice Oregon.
Allister: We talk with people all day. Not just about their organizations, but about, ‘What are you dreaming about? What else could we do? Who else are you connecting with?’ That is the heartbeat of what we're trying to do here.
The community conversations that we had in May 2021 were also the first time that a lot of Black folks doing work in Oregon, not just Portland, had the opportunity to be in virtual space together. [The opportunity for a grantee] to say, ‘I just started this nonprofit a few years ago and I'm sitting here with Sharon Gary-Smith of the NAACP, and we've never met before, but this is an opportunity for us to convene.’
Just seeing the byproducts that happened as a result of getting folks together in this space has been really, really amazing. That doesn't mean that everybody agrees all the time and the initiative is not perfect by any means, but I see that sort of connective tissue really forming through this and that's been really amazing to watch.
What advice would you give to organizations who want to do this type of work?
Nancy: Decide at the get go what your goals are. Living your racial justice values is setting up that program for success, which means giving it enough capacity and not siloing the work. Yes, there can be this program that can be for this particular community, but you have to think about it in a holistic way. You have to think about how this kind of racial justice initiative fits into the organization and how the whole organization is supporting it.
Allister: I would say, do all of that and then talk to another organization. Do a lot of funder organizing around this so there is an ecosystem supporting it.
Thoughts on the future?
Allister: I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to get to meet amazing Black folks all over the state who are doing really incredible work for their communities. You know, seeing all of the movement that's happening.
Ultimately, I’m trying to help grow the kind of place that I want to live, which is a place where Black people are happy and resourced and where there are cross-racial justice efforts happening. I love that part of this work. I love the people in this work.
Justice Oregon has been known for its high number of first time grantees. In this latest round of awards, what is one organization you are particularly excited about?
Allister: We are so excited to award $6.94 million (including multi-year grants) to 62 organizations in this third round. They are all doing incredible, important work, but if I had to choose one organization, it would be PRISMID Sanctuary. It’s a communal gathering and healing space for Black and Indigenous artists in North Portland, thoroughly curated by musician and composer Esperanza Spalding.
I’d also like to highlight the Gordly Burch Center for Black Leadership and Civic Engagement. They’re celebrating the history of Black leadership in Oregon with a mission to train and support the next generation of Black leaders and to increase the number of Black policy makers, community and civic Leaders across Oregon.
Nancy: I would choose Love is King. I had never heard of this group before the process and I am so inspired by the work they are doing. They bring small groups of Black Oregonians to the Arctic every summer to meet with Indigenous leaders and to see some of the lands and people that are being threatened by climate change. The folks who go on the trips are then paired with a conservation organization and a dozen went to Washington D.C. this year to testify in Congress.
Listed below are all of the Justice Oregon for Black Lives Awardees (Spring 2023)
African American Alliance for Home Ownership*
African Heritage Education and Empowerment Community*
African Women's Coalition*
Allen Performing Arts Inc.*
Black Community of Portland
Black Oregon Land Trust*
Black United Fund of Oregon
Boys and Girls Clubs of Portland Metropolitan Area*
Clackamas Education Service District*
Community Violence Prevention Alliance*
Ethiopian and Eritrean Cultural and Resource Center*
Friends of IFCC*
Friends of the Children - Portland
Get Schooled Foundation*
Gordly Burch Center for Black Leadership and Civic Engagement*
Jackson County Community Services Consortium*
Joyce Finley Foundation*
Kids For The Culture*
Lane Community College Foundation*
Lines for Life*
Love is King*
Love is Stronger GV*
NE STEAM Coalition
None Left Behind*
Oregon Bravo Youth Orchestras*
Oregon Expungement Relief Project*
Oregon Pediatric Society*
Oregon Pediatric Society*
PassinArt: A Theatre Company*
Portland Community College Foundation*
Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives
Portland Housing Center*
Portland State University Foundation*
RACE TALKS: Uniting to Break the Chains of Racism
Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theatre*
Sabin Community Development Corporation*
Somali American Council of Oregon (SACOO)*
Soul District Business Association
The Fathers Group
Triple Threat Mentoring
University of Oregon Foundation*
Urban League of Portland
Wild Diversity *
Wildcat Boxing Inc*
Williams & Russell CDC*
WomenFirst Transition & Referral Center*
Youth Empowerment Project Pacific Northwest*
Youth Organized and United to Help
*First time awardees