On this day 230 years ago, an uprising in Santo Domingo (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) played a pivotal role in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. Today marks the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. It is in the spirit of that remembrance — and the recognition of the ongoing anti-Black racism and injustice that continues to exist — that Meyer Memorial Trust is honored to launch its first ever Call For Proposals (CFP) for the Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative.
The police killing of George Floyd in 2020 reenergized a national movement for structural justice, an end to systemic racism and a reckoning with the intersecting legacies of white supremacy. At Meyer, we envision a future where Oregon transforms into the antithesis of its original design as a white utopia, spurred from ambivalence towards racial justice and a culture of anti-Blackness. We’re investing in those communities, leaders and organizations that are building an Oregon where racism, particularly anti-Black racism and its creation at the behest of white supremacy, is acknowledged and long-term, systemic racist policies are dismantled.
Justice Oregon for Black Lives is a critical part of that ongoing effort, created to deepen Meyer’s commitment to Black-led and Black-serving organizations, support public safety and community well-being and foster long-term strategic change. Our funding priorities for this round will focus on three strategic priority areas identified as highest priorities by our community:
- Investing in Education
- Economic Justice
- Reimagining Public Safety
We are currently working on the goals and outcomes for two additional community-identified focus areas: Shifting Black Narrative through the Arts and Culture and Addressing Healing and Trauma for Black Communities.
Today we not only remember the pain and trauma of the transatlantic slave trade and its abolition, but also the resilience, resistance, joy and strength that have allowed us to persevere and persist. With this CFP, we recommit ourselves to harnessing the momentum toward racial justice.
For more information and applicant resources, please see our newly updated webpage. We also hope to meet potential grantees at one of two upcoming information sessions. Please register through the links below.
We are excited about what Justice Oregon has in store and the partnership we are building. Onward.
Justice Oregon for Black Lives Call for Proposals Opens August 23.
Justice Oregon for Black Lives is the largest initiative in Meyer’s 38-year history, created in the wake of nearly two months of demonstrations protesting the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others that have awakened a national movement to end systemic and structural racism.
Meyer’s board of trustees approved the commitment in recognition of the urgent opportunity to transform institutions, systems and narratives in Oregon, a state founded on stolen lands and explicit in its constitutional exclusion of Black people. A long-term effort, the initiative is being co-created with Black communities working to advance racial justice and equity in Oregon.
- Economic Justice
- Investing in Education
- Reimagining Public Safety
- Shifting Black Narrative through Arts + Culture
- Addressing Trauma + Healing
Increase Black ownership (i.e. businesses, homes, investments).
- Support an additional 100 Black owned businesses to achieve revenue of $1 million+ across Oregon by 2025
- Increase Black home ownership to 35% by 2025
Increase financial literacy / opportunities in Black communities.
- Identify Black and community financial institution partnerships to access capital and to provide financial literacy by 2023
Increase representation of Black educators, administrators across Oregon.
- Increase recruitment and retainment of Black teachers and administrators to 400 total by 2025 across Oregon in K-12.
Improve Black student academic, social and emotional outcomes throughout Oregon.
- Increase Black student academic performance, namely mathematics, writing and reading skills
- Increase Black student access to programs that improve their social and emotional well-being
Create a shared vision of what public safety is within the Black community.
- Develop a shared geographical public safety plan(s) for Blacks across Oregon by 2023
Increase the percentage of Black policy makers and leaders across Oregon.
- Increase Black policy makers to 2% across OR and to 6% for Portland metro by 2025
The goals and strategies in Shifting Black Narrative through the Arts + Culture is currently being designed and developed with community. If your organization has interest in requesting funding in these areas, please contact the Justice Oregon team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The goals and strategies for Addressing Trauma and Healing for Black Communities is currently being designed and developed with community. If your organization has interest in requesting funding in these areas, please contact the Justice Oregon team at email@example.com.
The beginning of this month marked the 100th anniversary of the white supremacist rampage that destroyed the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. What would eventually be known as the Tulsa Race Massacre took place over the course of May 31 - June 1, 1921, decimating a thriving Black community and leaving hundreds dead at the hands of a white mob angered by the economic success of America’s “Black Wall Street” and triggered by a false accusation against a Black man for allegedly assaulting a white woman.
The Tulsa Race Massacre isn’t taught widely, if at all, in school curriculums about U.S. history. In the past couple years, though, the events have been depicted in pop culture television shows like Watchmen and Lovecraft Country. But I grew up knowing that history of violence.
While my family has lived in Oregon for six generations, I was actually born less than 50 miles outside of Tulsa in a little town called Nowata, Oklahoma. Nowata is where I spent my formative years and where I still return for family reunions. Because of this connection, I grew up learning about the massacre and paying homage to Greenwood, the legacy of those brutally murdered and the importance of the city to America’s Black community and history.
As we recognize 100 years since the massacre, I reflect on what it took away. Besides the lives, livelihoods and safety of so many, the Tulsa Race Massacre also stripped the Black community of the opportunity and future that it had worked so hard for. There is no telling what could have been without this loss of life and generational wealth.
But Oregonians have another centennial to reckon with as well. A hundred years ago, in June 1921, as the survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre were interned and forced to clean up the destruction of their businesses, homes and lives, the Ku Klux Klan began implementing its methodical—and wildly successful—plan to expand into Oregon. The Klan sent scouts from its headquarters in Georgia to recruit members in Portland, gaining thousands within a matter of months. Within just a few years, Oregon had the highest per capita Klan membership of any state in the country.
The rapid rise of the Klan in Oregon was not an anomaly. Our state has excluded Black people since its inception. The original state constitution prohibited Black people from living, working or owning property in Oregon. Our state was also deeply resistant to the U.S. Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments, adopted into the U.S. Constitution in 1868 and 1870 respectively. Oregon rescinded its initial ratification of the 14th Amendment and did not re-ratify until 1973, over a hundred years after its adoption, and was one of only six states that refused to ratify the 15th Amendment, not doing so until 1959. As Juneteenth approaches this year, this history must not only be remembered, but reckoned with and reconciled.
Exclusion is critical to white supremacy. But the flip side is more than merely inclusion. Participation and representation is needed to counterbalance the history of violent exclusion, racist laws, outright refusal to expand civil rights, ongoing systems of white supremacy and so much more.
Last July, Meyer Memorial Trust announced Justice Oregon for Black Lives, a five-year, $25 million initiative to make strategic investments in Black lives, our largest single initiative ever. Our goal with Justice Oregon is to deepen support for Black-centered organizations, uplift a just system of community well-being and invest in long-term lasting strategic change. This isn’t about just tinkering at the margins or funding implicit bias sessions for cops. It’s about investment in Black organizations, communities, leadership, families, wisdom and opportunity. Black success, indeed Black life—and everything that means from personal wellbeing to public safety, financial stability to building generational wealth, owning our narrative and telling our own stories—is precisely what most threatens white supremacy.
As we began to plan for this initiative, the primary question for us in philanthropy was how to honor the values that we set forth and how to hold ourselves accountable to the community and those values.
To that end, Meyer has embraced participatory grantmaking in our approach to Justice Oregon for Black Lives. To build Black participation and representation, we must do more than just deploy funds; we must democratize philanthropy. Sharing power is fundamental to finding a new model of philanthropy—one that repairs and restores based on a community’s needs and the principles of justice, not just what’s thought best by those who’ve long held the purse-strings. As Meyer’s President and CEO, Michelle J. DePass recently said, “Justice is about scaling up a corrective opportunity. It’s about making up for lost time.”
We are working with an advisory committee of Black community members, creating a space where they can authentically talk about their needs, the needs of Black Oregonians and ways philanthropy can be a transparent partner with them to support Black resilience and liberation. We recognize the importance of working hand-in-hand with the community to not only hold ourselves accountable, but to also create a space where partnership and collaboration can thrive. There is motivation and momentum right now, and we must not squander it by biding our time or smother it in red tape.
This summer, Meyer will continue to engage with the community, to be best informed when it comes to identifying outcomes, the process for grant applications and other factors for the successful rollout of Justice Oregon for Black Lives. We are listening. We are learning how to do this right and will continue to do the work—in community—with our eyes, ears and hearts open.
We’ll have so much more to report and celebrate come this Fall. And throughout this process, we will remain accountable to Oregon’s Black communities and to all aspects of Black life—the pain and trauma of both the past and present, yes, but also the resilience, the resistance, the joy and the strength that have, for centuries, allowed us to persevere and persist, to fight and flourish, in the face of exclusion, hatred and violence. Liberation is a process, not a moment in time.
We honor those who made it possible for us to be here today—from Greenwood in Tulsa to Albina in Portland, from the Strand District in Galveston to South Minneapolis—and remain dedicated to them, their struggle, their success and their justice.
The intersection of N. Greenwood Ave. and Archer St. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as Black Wall Street
As I embark on this journey as director of Justice Oregon for Black Lives, I cannot lose sight of celebrating Black History Month. Growing up in Portland with family ties to Oklahoma, I was taught about Black wealth and the resiliency of our people. I learned about Black Wall Street and how an entire Black community in Tulsa worked to create a FUBU — for us by us — network and build structures to support community prosperity and economic success, all during a time when Black people couldn’t use the same drinking fountain as a white person. A similar history is woven between our Black community here in Oregon and the former city of Vanport.
Black people have lived through countless atrocities and survived historical injustices from the start of the transatlantic slave trade to the current criminalization of Black bodies. These inequities inform the way I approach grantmaking and how I will do my part to right historical wrongs in Oregon.
I love this state deeply, and with such strong adoration comes an equally high level of expectation for improving the lives of Black Oregonians. I often think about the events of the past month and how white nationalism has tested our nation’s belief in democracy, equity and justice. When I have felt anguish about racial injustice, I’ve found relief through the leadership of young Black activists and Black-led organizations and the positive impact they have within our nation — holding our passions and voices and taking responsibility to disrupt unjust systems that perpetuate hate and marginalize Black and Brown people everywhere.
In my first nonprofit job as a program manager at House of Umoja — an organization that combated gang violence in Portland while strengthening social ties in the Black community — I learned firsthand the crucial role that culturally specific organizations play in neighborhoods, schools and churches as well as with law enforcement and government. I carried these lessons with me and embedded them throughout a 15-year career at Casey Family Programs, learning how philanthropy can better serve the most vulnerable populations and those adversely impacted by systemic racism.
As I’ve settled into my role at Meyer, I’ve reflected on my plans for the initiative, ideas for co-creation of grantmaking in partnership with the Black community and ways to structure the foundation’s funding to meet the needs of all Black folks in Oregon’s 36 counties.
So far, I’ve learned during my time at Meyer that we envision a future in which Oregon becomes the antithesis of its original design as a white utopia in which Black people were not welcome. We envision a place where racism, particularly anti-Black racism, is acknowledged and long-term systemic racist policies are dismantled. A place where Black people feel they belong no matter where they travel and reside in the state. We envision a state where centering the work of Black liberation ultimately creates just conditions for all Oregonians.
Last summer, our board of trustees made it clear that racial justice was central to Meyer’s mission by publicly condemning anti-Black racism and prejudice and giving our president and CEO, Michelle J. DePass, license to outline the foundation’s strategy for the work of Justice Oregon and how it will affect Meyer’s grantmaking and culture and deepen the institution's commitment to serving Black communities.
To elevate the needs of Black Oregonians within philanthropic and business communities, my role as director calls me to build stronger relationships with Black communities across the state and create spaces and opportunities for Black people to steer the strategic direction of philanthropic dollars in Oregon. It is my responsibility to convene private and public partners to support Black Oregonians and foster innovative practices that drive outcomes related to Black resilience and liberation.
Defining my work and Justice Oregon at Meyer
Over the next six months, I plan to learn from and build relationships with Black Oregonians across the state. In February and March, I will be offering more specifics and focusing on our strategy for deepening Meyer’s commitment and connection to the Black community. I recognize that to get this thing right, we need input, direction and support from Black folks, so I will also be connecting with community members and private, public and business organizations through a series of virtual and in-person (when possible) meetings and events.
Justice Oregon will host virtual community information and connection sessions on Feb. 22 and March 4 to share our framework for the initiative and gather feedback and insights about where Meyer’s funding is needed. We will share the registration link online next week. Sign up for our Meyer Mail newsletter for more information and updates about the virtual events.
Grants, funding priorities and award timelines don’t exist yet because they will be set in collaboration and partnership with community. We do know that Justice Oregon will operate differently but in partnership with Meyer's existing portfolios so that organizations will not have to select between the initiative and applying for portfolio-specific funding through the Annual Funding Opportunity. As a result, Justice Oregon will not be apart of Meyer's AFO this year but we will actively seek opportunities to bolster the efforts of organizations that come through the annual funding opportunity process.
As we design the funding approach for this initiative, a primary focus for me will be maintaining flexibility in between funding cycles to fund innovative projects as they arise. I will also seek to partner with other philanthropic organizations, public entities and businesses to leverage our collective resources to provide multi-year funding opportunities to support strategic investments in the lives of Black Oregonians.
I know most philanthropic partners have adopted diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) vision statements and goals. It is not always clear how philanthropic organizations are funneling resources into Black communities to create sustainable change and to dismantle racism and anti-Blackness. I hope this initiative further encourages our partners within philanthropy and abroad to enter into this space as we learn how to do this better at Meyer.
Philanthropy is uniquely positioned to work across all systems to address institutional racism and anti-Blackness throughout our communities. I believe this initiative — centered on the idea that making strategic investments in Black lives in Oregon will better the lives of all Oregonians — will allow Meyer to be more fluid as we think about our funding cycles and processes to ensure that Black people and communities have what they need to thrive. I hope you will journey alongside me in this effort.
The African Adinkra symbol Sankofa, emphasizing revival and wisdom.
I'm ecstatic to announce that Meyer Memorial Trust has named D’Artagnan Bernard Caliman as the new director of Justice Oregon for Black Lives — Meyer’s five-year, $25 million investment in Black leadership, Black-serving organizations and systemic-level change.
D’Artagnan (Dar-Tan-Yan) brings deep experience building and leading programs, as well as co-creating innovation with communities here in Oregon, across the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in the country. His roots in Portland – and his continued connection to community even from afar – affirm how driven he is to the mission of systems-level change through the centering of Black Oregonians.
D’Artagnan who most recently served as the executive director at Building Changes in Seattle, brings 24 years of experience and leadership across social work, human services, juvenile justice, gang prevention, homelessness, child welfare, philanthropy, advocacy, policy and racial equity at local, regional and national levels.
As a sixth-generation Oregonian, D’Artagnan’s personal story is interwoven with many moments and milestones in Oregon history that may ring familiar to people who were raised in historic Albina, a longtime home to Portland’s Black and Native communities. He earned a diploma from Catlin Gabel School, a sociology degree from Warner Pacific College and a master’s of social work from Portland State University. D’Artagnan’s first job was at Portland House of Umoja, where he created a culturally specific “Rites of Passage” program for young Black men. He also worked at Self Enhancement Inc. as a multi-systemic therapist working with youths who were involved in the juvenile justice system.
When D’Artagnan was 17, a close friend — Mujib Dudley — was killed in a gang shooting near NE 15th Avenue and Alberta Street. Looking out at the mourners at the funeral, he decided to take a path aimed to help to prevent such senseless violence.
Previously, D’Artagnan served as senior manager of the Child Welfare Information Gateway Digital and Web Services team, as well as a state/territory liaison providing capacity building services for public child welfare (DE, MD, NH, VA, WV and Washington, DC.) at ICF, a global consulting firm that works to improve public child welfare in partnership with the United States Children's Bureau. He has also served as the chief of staff for the Maryland Department of Human Services. He has worked as a child welfare consultant specializing in child welfare, child abuse and neglect, juvenile justice and social services. For 15 years, D’Artagnan worked in case management, community programs supervision and overseeing national partnerships in Oregon, California and Washington for the Seattle-based Casey Family Programs.
At Building Changes D’Artagnan led the strategy and implementation of effective partnerships and programs for a nonprofit working to improve the educational, health and housing outcomes for students, youths and families who experience homelessness. Through his leadership, Building Changes set a new five-year Strategic Plan to deepen the organization’s racial equity work and address disproportionality in BIPOC communities experiencing homelessness.
As the director of Justice Oregon for Black Lives, D’Artagnan will be responsible for overseeing an initiative dedicated to deepening support for Black-centered organizations and uplifting a just system of community well-being for Black-led and Black-serving organizations that intersect with other communities of color.
The Skanner quoted D’Artagnan last week in a news release about joining Meyer. He said, “I have dedicated my career to my friend’s memory and the uplifting of the Black community. With the civil unrest across the country and in our backyards across Oregon state, I am even more strongly motivated to partner with Black communities in the work of eliminating structural racism and moving toward Black liberation.”
D’Artagnan will begin work at Meyer on Jan. 6.
Meet D’Artagnan Bernard Caliman, Meyer’s new Director of Justice Oregon for Black Lives.
The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others at the hands of police have motivated activists of all stripes in the United States and abroad to demand justice for Black people. Their calls for justice have blossomed into a movement that demands attention and action to dismantle and reimagine the systems and institutions that uphold racism and injustice in our communities.
The Meyer Memorial Trust board condemns anti-Black racism and prejudice in all forms. We acknowledge the role anti-Blackness has played in Oregon, a state founded on the principle of excluding Black people from stepping inside its borders. We understand that the threads of anti-Blackness codified in Oregon’s original constitution remain woven into the fabric of our society. We know that injustice will persist until Oregonians can entirely disentangle our laws, institutions, policies and beliefs from those historic threads.
Since 2014, Meyer’s mission has been to work with and invest in organizations, communities, ideas and efforts that contribute to a flourishing and equitable Oregon. In our work we have defined equity to mean the existence of conditions where all people can reach their full potential. While all four of our grantmaking portfolios list people of color as priority populations, this moment in history demands that we be explicit about who faces barriers to reaching their full potential. Now is the moment to address the specific experiences of Black Oregonians, to state unequivocally that Black lives matter.
On June 29, we voted to launch a new program at Meyer: Justice Oregon for Black Lives. This is a $25 million five-year commitment to lift up Black Oregonians, leadership and organizations. This initiative harnesses the momentum toward racial justice by deepening investment in Black-led and Black-serving organizations, community well-being and lasting strategic change.
Strategies for Justice Oregon for Black Lives will be developed in collaboration with Black communities, leaders and organizations in Oregon. Meyer will strive to be flexible and responsive to meet the needs of a movement that is unfolding quickly and will continue to evolve. It is our intention that Justice Oregon for Black Lives will seed systems-level change by centering Black Oregonians and supporting work with the potential to improve the lives of all Oregonians. The work of achieving justice requires contribution from all sectors of society. We call on our peers in philanthropy and our partners in business and industry to pull the levers of power within their reach to support this movement. We look forward to working together.
Meyer remains committed to our nonprofit partners across Oregon, whose work we support through our Equitable Education, Healthy Environment, Housing Opportunities and Building Community portfolios. Justice Oregon deepens Meyer’s investment in the state beyond these portfolios.
In just a few weeks, the movement has opened a national dialogue, driven municipal policy changes and removed symbols of racism from sports arenas, consumer products, statehouses, state flags and monument pedestals. These signals of change are the result of decades of advocacy and groundwork laid by Black leaders, communities and organizations. We know there is more to come. We stand with the stalwart champions of justice and with the emerging leaders of the present mobilization. We are in this with you for the long haul.
— Toya Fick, Charles Wilhoite, Janet Hamada, Mitch Hornecker, Alice Cuprill-Comas and Amy Tykeson
A poet raises their fist in solidarity during a protest in Portland in support of justice for Black lives. Photo credit: Fred Joe photo
Three months before the heartbreaking footage of George Floyd’s murder ignited an inspiring wave of protests across the country, I had the privilege of leading a conversation at Meyer Memorial Trust with Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. She was clear: If philanthropy wants to see real change, we must be bold in aligning our actions with our values.
“Change is happening with or without you,” she said. “You get to decide if you are agents of that change or passively receiving it.”
I have worked and stayed in philanthropy because I believe that it is possible for philanthropy to show up differently and to push toward the alignment of actions and values that are rooted in racial justice. Now feels like a historic moment when the momentum has built thanks to the work of so many. Change that we’ve been pushing for feels possible.
I’ve been angry with the emergence of every hashtag documenting a life taken and don’t want to be part of talk without action. As we began dreaming about Justice Oregon, centering Black leadership, nonprofits and communities, I felt the first glimmer of hope that pushed through the rage that had been my constant companion for so long. As it started to emerge as a five-year initiative instead of a short-term infusion of dollars, a feeling of possibility replaced despair.
Today we are heeding the call to action with $25 million in new funding to launch Justice Oregon for Black Lives, the largest commitment Meyer has ever made.
The initiative will be a long-term effort, co-created with Black communities to understand how we can show up as the best possible partners in the work to advance racial justice and equity in Oregon. We are beginning by redoubling our commitment to several Black organizations in Portland with whom we are well aligned and have long-standing relationships. We know organizations working on these issues need money right now, and we have awarded five initial Justice Oregon grants, totalling $1 million. We wanted to honor and dignify the work that has been done without needing to work through an onerous process. These organizations are historically under-resourced, and we are awarding general operating grants so that the organizations can decide for themselves the best way to meet this moment’s potential.
We will move another $290,000 to organizations mobilizing in the Metro region to increase public safety and curtail police violence. Some of these organizations are new to Meyer, but their ambitions align with our own, and we want to build lasting relations as we make Oregon a state that not only has anti-racism ideals but lives up to them. There are leaders who have brilliant ideas of how to make the most of this moment to make significant progress on an issue that has long impacted Black people living in Oregon. We wanted to send a strong signal that we support these efforts and want them to have resources and support for their work now.
To make these investments, we tapped our endowment. This is a rare decision. But it is one that meets this moment. It is more important to contribute to the movement than to be afraid or cautious, to hide behind policies and procedures to keep from taking action. We need to take risks to ensure we are able to manifest the potential of this moment. We are moving resources out of the protection of the endowment to invest in the leadership that will allow us to build a more just future. This decision gives us latitude to invest in emerging leadership and space to build new relationships. A soon-to-be-hired program director will oversee this additional line of work, which will be done in close collaboration with Black communities in Oregon. Our hopes are that we can build new relationships with individuals and organizations, think creatively and holistically about how to be in partnership, and be transformational and impactful with our grants.
This decision is only made possible because of the relationships we have with Black communities, individuals and institutions, which offer us wisdom and direction. We also can tap the lessons learned from our work on equity that the foundation committed to in 2016. And, last, we are guided by Black feminist leadership that believes agitation builds momentum.
We know trust is one of the greatest resources to offer other leaders doing the hard work to achieve justice.
We need to move at the speed of trust and balance the desire to respond to the urgency of the moment with the intentionality of setting a strong foundation for the work ahead. We are excited to share the first round of grantmaking and ask for your guidance and support as we co-create what comes next.
We expect that centering Blackness will enhance the importance of all the other aspects of our equity work. As the pandemic has shown so clearly, Black, Indigenous and People of Color communities are disproportionately impacted when crisis hits, and our commitment to Black communities signals a strengthening of our commitment to all communities of color in Oregon. We stand with our Native, Latinx and Asian-American communities, believing that we can manifest meaningful change for Oregon to create a sense of belonging for all who call it home. This is especially powerful because this state originally was created to exclude so many of us. We believe that by centering those most impacted, we will build a stronger system that works for all.
All lives cannot matter if Black lives do not matter. This is the moment for us to center and focus and be active in the creation of a shared liberation.
Photo caption: Two siblings—one holding a sparkler and the other a sign that reads “Black Lives Matter”—stand in solidarity at a violin vigil in Portland for Elijah McClain. Photo credit: Fred Joe Photo
George Floyd begged the police for more than 8 minutes not to take his life.
Nearly two months have passed since his videotaped slaying, and hundreds of thousands of people continue to take to the streets to protest brutal policing practices against Black Americans, condemn racism, demand accountability and affirm that Black lives do in fact matter.
Diverse and overwhelmingly peaceful, the protests have had swift, wide-ranging impacts. Here in Oregon, tens of thousands from across the state have shown up amid the coronavirus pandemic to add their voices to the calls for justice. In Portland, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero ordered “school resource officers” removed from the city’s schools, the Portland City Council approved $15 million in cuts from the Portland Police Bureau budget amidst policy calls to support broader public safety and community well-being, and new, reform-minded district attorneys have pledged to change prosecutorial practices in various jurisdictions including Multnomah County.
I’ll be plain: These local victories are the product of long-standing leadership, activism and direct action by Black leaders, steadfast allies and, especially, Black-led and Black-serving social change organizations, from established mainstays like the Urban League of Portland to grassroots efforts. Six weeks into the protests, the country is in a moment of unprecedented reckoning as systemic and institutional anti-Black racism are laid bare and growing crowds demand real change. In Oregon, we are faced with an urgent opportunity to transform and build anew. Radical change may be more possible today than ever before.
Meyer Memorial Trust, an institution with equity at the heart of our work, will meet the moment by supporting Black resilience in Oregon.
This month, our board of trustees approved the creation of a five-year, $25 million initiative to make strategic investments in Black lives. “Justice Oregon for Black Lives” is the largest initiative in our 38-year history. Its scale recognizes that racial injustice was built into the framework of a state founded on stolen lands and explicit in its exclusion of Black people. Justice is not simply an ideal; it is something Oregonians should expect to see in our everyday lives. This dedicated funding will deepen support for Black-centered organizations, uplift a just system of community well-being and invest in long-term lasting strategic change. By supporting Black-led and Black-serving organizations that intersect with other communities of color, we know that conditions will improve for all Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in Oregon, and in turn, for all Oregonians.
In an indication of how vitally important this work is to Meyer, we are tapping into our endowment to fund this initiative beyond our usual annual grantmaking.
For six years, Meyer has built towards this moment. We’ve shared our equity journey, which has reshaped our grantmaking, our hiring practices and how we use our privilege, voice and power. Never has it been more clear that the core concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion point to racial justice, to an Oregon that lives up to the ideals it promised to some and withheld from others.
We start now and will build to make our mark. Initial general operating grants totaling $1 million go out this week to five organizations Meyer already has relationships with that are doing transformative work in Black communities. Another $290,000 supports organizations focused on a wide range of issue areas: decarceration and decriminalization, abolishment of the prison-industrial complex, hate tracking and advocacy, redefining public safety beyond policing and cross-cultural approaches to racial justice. We plan to hire a program director* with lived experience to lead the Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative, deepening our relationships with Black-led organizations and starting new partnerships.
Philanthropic support of Black-led organizations historically falls short and with this infusion Meyer aims to reverse that trend and make this a mainstay of how we invest in Oregon’s future from now on. Oregon’s flawed founding does not predict its future. The times call on us to eradicate racism and right wrongs. We are proud to back leaders who are not only ready but determined to succeed.
— Michelle J. DePass
*Meyer launched a search for the Director of Oregon Justice for Black Lives on Sept. 14. Learn more here.
A mural in NE Portland honoring Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. | Artist: Christian Grijalva | Photo credit: Tojo Andrianarivo