It is with mixed emotions that I announce the departure of D’Artagnan Caliman, director of the Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative. His last day at Meyer will be February 1.
D’Artagnan joined us in 2020 as the director of Justice Oregon for Black Lives, Meyer’s largest single initiative in history. We are incredibly grateful for his efforts to connect and deepen Meyer’s relationships in the community, his leadership in expanding participatory processes in our grantmaking and for all he has done to ensure that Black-led and Black-serving organizations in Oregon are empowered and resourced to do their vital work. With his departure, we lose one of Meyer’s most authentic voices; a colleague who took the work seriously, but never himself.
Under his leadership, Meyer has distributed nearly $9 million to dozens of organizations through Justice Oregon and brought a significant number of first-time awardees to the mix. A sixth-generation Oregonian, D’Artagnan’s lived experience in the historically Black neighborhoods of Portland have helped to inform his efforts and approach, including the early and important work of convening dozens of community leaders to develop the initiative’s main funding priorities. In addition, all grants made through the initiative have benefited from community input and review. D’Artagnan’s leadership has ensured that Justice Oregon is truly an initiative by and for the Black community.
We wish D’Artagnan all the best as he takes a well-deserved moment to breathe and decide on what his next chapter will look like.
I also want to assure our grantees and partners that Meyer remains committed to Justice Oregon. As we enter its third year, we are excited to continue funding excellent work and sharing more about our learnings through the initiative.
Nearly two decades of working in nonprofits have acclimated me to restrictive, donor-directed funding. I can count the number of times on one hand that a donor has asked for input on strategy. So I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my first task as Meyer's director of grantmaking would be listening to community members to inform our new approach. I could not have asked for a better introduction to Oregon’s amazing leaders and organizations!
Over the summer and early fall of 2022, Meyer — in close partnership with community leaders — convened a series of community engagement sessions. Starting in June and continuing through October, Meyer hosted 16 group sessions and a half-dozen, one-on-one interviews across four communities (Latine/x/a/o, Native, Asian American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander), as well as one thematic area (gender justice). The Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative also held community listening sessions last year. Each group’s conversations took different forms, following the lead of the community and working to best fit their needs.
Meyer staff worked to be intentional in our approach. We read reports ahead of time and hired facilitators from the communities we were speaking with in an attempt to create a more neutral space. We offered collective and individual meetings. Mindful of how listening sessions require community members to give of their time and wisdom — an arrangement that can be extractive — Meyer offered every attendee an honorarium for their participation. And similarly conscious of the fact that honoraria are right and necessary, but not fully sufficient for showing our appreciation for their insights, we also told participants that we would share back with them what we heard from specific groups and collectively across all conversations.
I want to shine a light on the common themes that surfaced, the threads that ran through the different communities and gatherings we held. Though these themes may not be “new” and we saw each community interpret the themes uniquely, there are clear trends that resonated within the diverse BIPOC communities we spoke with.
Everything is interconnected. Everyone is connected.
The conversations we had with communities of color clearly underscored the truism of intersectionality: we are all connected and cannot address issues in isolation. Hearing tangible examples of this in the lives of community members further validated the intersectional focus of Meyer’s new strategic framework. It is a core pillar on which future grantmaking will be built. At the same time, we heard the complexity and nuance of this approach; we know we will need to stay in partnership to navigate this well.
Belonging means home and it also means healing.
We heard variations on this theme but the melody carried through: communities of color need spaces to authentically belong, in order to carry forward efforts to make Oregon a place where anyone can feel at home. Given the historic erasure and forced assimilation of BIPOC communities, there is a strong desire to retain cultural identity but this does not preclude unity in Oregon. The mindset of abundance reminds us that there is space for all.
Current investment in leaders and organizations is essential for future progress.
The pandemic and racial reckoning of the last two years have pushed organizations into new areas of service delivery with limited support to organizational infrastructure. On one hand, new needs and possibilities have emerged. On the other hand, there aren’t enough people to carry out the work. Moving forward on racial justice will require specific support to the organizations on the front lines of leading racial justice change for their communities.
In addition to the commonalities across groups, I also want to lift up some of the specific insights that surfaced during our time with community.
Data is helpful, except when it's harmful.
One of the key takeaways from the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NH/PI) engagements was actually foreshadowed in our own engagement planning process. When Meyer's program staff first mapped out our summer of engagement, we planned to meet with the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, often abbreviated as AAPI.
But when we began introduction calls, we heard feedback that guided us in a different direction. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders shared how the broad label of AAPI often skewed the data and invisibilized their experiences. As a first-generation Chinese American who has relative privilege in comparison to many others under the “AAPI” label, it was easy to see how harmful this lack of nuance could be. The mass aggregation of data told a very different story than what was being lived in reality. Even the NH/PI label encompasses incredibly varied experiences and needs.
As a starting point, Meyer could help rectify the invisibilizing history by engaging with NH/PI leaders in their own conversations separate from Asian American leaders. Disaggregating the conversation was one important component to build relationships with this community and better understand its strengths and needs.
The natural world is a part of — not apart from — Oregon's definition of community. It's time we think of it that way.
Our Native engagement team spent nearly eight hours over three sessions with two dozen leaders and representatives from Oregon's Native communities. In addition to echoing the themes of interconnectedness, belonging and building, they offered another essential insight — that our environment, our place is a part of our community. The water, the air, the wildlife, our wildlands and worked lands are as integral to our well-being as the schools we send our children to or the jobs we take or the businesses we support.
For us at Meyer, it validates why we chose to include the collective well-being of Oregon's lands and peoples in our new mission statement.
How We're Using the Insights We Gathered
After hearing from over 100 community members, Meyer staff mapped and synthesized what we learned. We saw convergence around the key themes named earlier and reported these findings to Meyer’s Trustees in October. We shared facilitators' notes and transcripts of the sessions to those who engaged in the process.
For those interested in a deeper exploration of those conversations, we invite you to review our synthesis briefto get a deeper, richer sense of the conversations we had and the focus areas communities lifted up.
Most importantly, we are integrating the priorities we heard into our new strategic framework, which will be fully shared in coming months. We are beyond grateful for the time, energy and passion from community members and we hope to be worthy stewards of what was shared.
Meyer recently engaged in a strategic planning process that led to a number of changes in our grantmaking process and the values we hold at the center of our work. As part of this effort, Meyer is working with CEI to design and build a learning and evaluation practice within Meyer. This is the latest in a series of conversations about Meyer’s developing strategy.
Last month, Kaberi Banerjee Murthy, Meyer’s chief impact officer, spoke with Chera Reid, Ph.D., co-executive director of the Center for Evaluation Innovation, about the foundation’s focus on learning and listening, how traditional evaluation in the philanthropic sector has created and maintained an unjust status quo, and ways in which a new approach to measuring impact and gathering feedback can help build equity and shift power. They also talked about Lizzo.
Below is a transcript of their chat, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Dr. Chera Reid, Center for Evaluation Innovation: For over a decade, Meyer has defined itself as an equity-centered organization. You recently named a move from equity to justice as your guiding frame. What does this look like in practice?
Kaberi Banerjee Murthy, Meyer Memorial Trust: Fundamentally, given all the challenges inherent in philanthropy — namely, the ways in which it was created by and still rewards unaccountable systems of great inequality — if we're not actively and deliberately moving toward justice, we're only trying to slightly improve conditions within a fundamentally broken system. We need to be working with partners and communities to reimagine and create a new way of being. Otherwise, we’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. To move toward justice, it’s been important for us to think about our active stance — to be anti-racist, to center gender and reproductive justice, to heed BIPOC wisdom — as opposed to believing we can get there via a passive stance. We are working to get into deep alignment internally with our mission and values.
Chera: What are you learning as you practice anti-racist behaviors as a justice-centered organization?
Kaberi: First, I should begin by clarifying that we are still aspiring to become a justice foundation. We know that by stating our intent, we won’t magically become one overnight. It’s a process, for sure. But we’re also very aware of how incrementalism can be the enemy of substantive impact, so we are committed to ensuring something meaningful emerges from every step we take. It will be through our everyday choice points that we are practicing how we live our mission.
And it’s a learning journey in all the things that we will get wrong along the way. We are learning to be transparent and honest about that.
One of the things I was thinking about last month was how Lizzo responded to being called out for using ableist language in her new song “Grrrls.” She was called into the difference between intent and impact. She didn’t use her intent as an excuse, but acknowledged her lack of awareness in using an offensive term. Her apology was not only about the words but also about action and transformation. The artist not only apologized but also re-recorded the track with new lyrics. At one of our recent Impact team meetings at Meyer, we talked about how Lizzo’s mature and thoughtful reaction is an example of modeling learning for accountability.
This accountability can happen at the organizational level but also in ourselves. For instance, I know and acknowledge that I’ve personally made mistakes, specifically by internalizing pressures and moving too fast. With feedback from my co-workers and reflecting on one of Dr. Shawn Ginwright’s Four Pivots, I realized that I was more hustle than flow. As individuals, and as an institution, what we can say is, “We will not get this perfect right away. We will make mistakes.” And what we can offer is a genuine desire to be in a listening and learning stance and not shy away from saying, “We got this wrong. We learned something. We listened to the feedback we received. And here’s how we pivoted or changed as a result.”
One of our key indicators about learning for accountability has to become how we respond to feedback, how we meet moments for transformation. Not being afraid to say “mea culpa” because that allows us to have a growth mindset. It’s not about trying to avoid risk or avoid mistakes; it’s about taking away the standard of perfectionism, which itself can be a symptom of white supremacy culture. We are learning to be brave enough to lean into our mistakes so that we can change.
Chera: I love the Lizzo example and want to go back to the accountability question. What’s on the horizon for how Meyer intends to learn with its partners?
Kaberi: When I started at Meyer, the institution collected a ton of data through the Meyer Outcome Reporting Charts (otherwise known as MORCs), and our team read every single evaluation report. We were taking in so much information, but we didn’t have a system for making collective meaning of the data coming in. So that’s one piece: We are moving from episodic or annual engagement to building our own internal muscle to have more meaningful feedback loops. That’s why we’re creating a new role here at Meyer — Director of Learning — and we’ll be posting a job description and accepting applications for that soon. To all those reading this: If bringing innovative approaches to evaluation is your thing, please consider connecting with us. This position will also have the opportunity to build a team, so that’s an exciting part of all of this, having the resources and capacity to get this right.
And the second piece is about making sure evaluation isn’t just in service to Meyer alone. Instead, we are working toward being able to speak to what we’re collectively learning — nonprofit leaders, our staff, our trustees — about how to partner and seek the change we want. We will be in conversation with community to ensure their feedback and wisdom informs our strategy framework, including our priorities and outcomes. We will say: Here’s where we’ve come to, how does this land, what are our blind spots, what did we miss?
Specifically, we’re using the three questions from the Trust-Based Learning and Evaluation Framework to guide our learning approach. As we “Learn for Accountability,” we’re asking how Meyer can continue building a foundation and practice of trust-based philanthropy, participatory grantmaking and intentional community relationships in alignment with our anti-racist, feminist values. As we “Learn for Decision-Making,” we’re asking how we are supporting our nonprofit partners in meeting their goals and adapting our processes to meet our partners’ changing needs. And as we “Learn for Long-Term Impact,” we’re asking if our funding is moving the meter on racial, social and economic justice for the collective well-being of Oregon’s lands and peoples.
Now, Chera, you’ve actually done this very thing in your previous role at Kresge. So I have a question for you. As you think about the future, what are your thoughts on how evaluation and learning benefits grantees? Both of us have been in philanthropy for a bit, and so much of what I’ve seen was around attribution – what did this one grant “buy” – instead of contribution – how did a grant help support work as part of an ecosystem of partners.
Chera: I really appreciate that question, Kaberi. In terms of evaluation, if you will, I grew up in the attribution world, too. If what you learn necessarily is meant to influence federal spending, which certain program evaluation often was designed to do, it has a place.
The way most foundations operate, that’s just not what you do. In philanthropy, we can think both short and long term about change and how change happens. Much of philanthropy works in place and is across complex systems. Social change is far from linear.
Plus, because philanthropy has this protected tax status, it has a bit of financial accountability, but it is not held to any particular standard when it comes to formalizing how we understand impact or to whom we’re accountable. Philanthropy must be motivated to shift accountability, for instance, the way you’re speaking about Meyer’s motivation being the pursuit of justice. Anti-racist practice is necessary, including in evaluative approach. Then philanthropy can share accountability with its nonprofit partners. Because transforming toward justice is for us all.
Kaberi: Can you say more about that?
Chera: One of the things that's unfortunate is that in the professionalization of evaluation, we’ve created an industry that has many of us, and I say this as a person who does a lot of consulting, inside a business model where many are dependent on selling a product called “evaluation.” At the end of the day, what we all want is learning, which isn’t something to possess. We want our learning to be data rich, robust with context and examples from practice. Learning is a capability that is in all of us. We’ve formalized it in such a way that it can lead us to forget that we actually know something about learning.
What energizes me about CEI’s partnership with Meyer is that we are starting from an intent to embody anti-racist practice. We are thinking together about multiple ways of knowing, [and about] how we will understand Meyer’s contribution to a larger system of change around dimensions of justice. Moving away from possession and toward shared learning is key. We will have more robust evaluative thinking — we will get clearer and learn more — with this approach.
Kaberi: And we will be open and vulnerable about the missteps we make along the way, to go back to our Lizzo example. I’m grateful that philanthropic spaces are in the process of shifting. We can and need to be honest and transparent about our journey.
At Meyer, we’re excited about the new Director of Learning and Evaluation role. It’s a long time coming and will really expand our ability to make good on what we know we need to do to better serve our community.
Chera: Yes, it’s a big job. One thing that I came to see early on in my time as the inaugural director of strategic learning, research and evaluation at The Kresge Foundation is that the job isn’t about possession, about being the holder of learning. It’s more about how we give it away, that is, stewarding so that learning is shared.
I’m thinking about a few of the enduring lessons I learned going through this same process at Kresge:
First, the work is about both learning and unlearning. This is about being curious about the assumptions and mindsets that are in our work and that are invisible until we make them visible. The Equitable Evaluation Framework™ uses the language of orthodoxies, for instance, to help us unsettle often unspoken assumptions that govern our efforts.
The second lesson and enduring anchor is about experts and expertise: We are experts in equal measure. This goes to inviting multiple ways of knowing, and trusting lived experience as a teacher. Together, the Trust-Based Philanthropy project and CEI have begun naming what we see as the emergence of a trust-based approach to learning and evaluation practice — aspects of which you’ve already mentioned, Kaberi.
Third, learning is for everyone. When we bring an equity or justice lens to our work, learning isn’t a “nice to do” but a “must do.” All heads, hearts and hands are on deck. At Kresge, for example, you will see that in 2019, the foundation adopted equity as its sixth value. This move reflects years of learning across the organization, and it exemplifies the kind of openness to be moved that we all must hold as possible.
Kaberi: Thanks, Chera, for all of this. It’s great to be in partnership with CEI around this and move from the ways evaluation has been done in philanthropy in the past to shift into a new way of partnering and learning with community.
We, the trustees and staff of Meyer Memorial Trust, are devastated and infuriated by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Even as we knew this travesty was coming, it is still shocking and the anger we are feeling needs to be named. This will have serious life-threatening implications on the collective well-being of people in Oregon and around the country. This decision is clearly rooted in a long history of white supremacy, misogyny and patriarchy.
As terrifying as a loss of abortion rights is, we also need to be clear that this is not just about choice, it’s about justice. This is about controlling the bodies and realities of those who are most vulnerable and will not stop with a focus on people who can become pregnant, but affect many other bodies, including trans bodies. As one reads the majority opinion, it is clear that the conservative majority believe abortion is only one of a number of rights that should not be protected. What is next? The right to interracial marriage? The right not to undergo forced sterilization? The right to contraception?
As Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor have written in their dissenting opinion, "'people' did not ratify the Fourteenth Amendment. Men did. So it is perhaps not so surprising that the ratifiers were not perfectly attuned to the importance of reproductive rights for women’s liberty, or for their capacity to participate as equal members of our Nation.”
We join Justices Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor in their dissent. A fundamental, constitutional human right has ended with today's decision. But tomorrow is another day. We have more work to do and we — along with our partners, friends and allies — are committed to doing it.
I am angry and frustrated. But am I surprised? Not really. As a woman, as a mother of two teenage daughters, as a person paying attention, as a human being living in this nation, it’s hard to be surprised by much anymore. The Supreme Court's appalling draft majority opinion (leaked, but confirmed) to overturn decades of legal precedent and "settled law" is a symptom of a society that has never taken the ever-present reality of structural sexism or the fight for gender justice seriously enough. That is plain to see. From reproductive rights to wage gaps, the injustice is glaring. It cannot continue.
Abortion rights are human rights. Reproductive rights are a bellwether of democracy. And when we're talking about abortion rights, in this state and in this country, we're talking about racial and economic justice too. Because the truth is that these regressive attacks disproportionately impact Black and Brown people, and people who are living in poverty. If a human being does not have sovereignty over their own body, what other rights can be guaranteed?
While Justice Samuel Alito's draft opinion focuses its attack on abortion rights, the thinking behind it makes it clear that the driving force of his argument is about control: controlling the bodies and lives of those who are the most vulnerable and the least able to access or afford reproductive care, including trans people.
After all, gender justice is not just a women's issue. It is a human rights issue. When we push Oregon closer to real gender justice, we are pushing closer to justice and freedom for all Oregonians. Thankfully, societies are malleable. They can be changed when enough people see the intersections between their own lives and the lives of neighbors, friends and strangers — at the intersections of identities and values where people actually live.
Last year, Meyer's trustees approved purposefully practicing philanthropy through an anti-racist and feminist perspective. And earlier this year, we approved a new mission to guide Meyer's future, one focused on accelerating racial, social and economic justice for the collective well-being of Oregon's lands and peoples. Our commitment to applying an intersectional feminist perspective and centering community wisdom will form our gender justice work, ensuring our grants and voice are meeting the moment.
Anytime I find myself angry and frustrated, I become more dedicated to fighting injustice. I hope you're with me. The fight will be hard, but it has to be worth it. For all our sakes.
In February, the newly renamed Oregon Collective Summit was attended by more than 125 educators and pre-service teachers from around the state. With COVID safety in mind, educators came together in a virtual space for the second year in a row. This was in contrast to the experience of many who have been working in school buildings since fall under extremely stressful conditions, including a surge in the Omicron variant that exacerbated an already severe shortage of teaching and support staff.
Understanding that context meant that the OCS educator-led planning committee prioritized healing as a primary theme of this year’s event, bringing Dr. Dena Simmons to share her experience and wisdom with attendees. Simmons is the founder of LiberatED, a collective focused on developing school-based resources at the intersection of social and emotional learning, racial justice and healing. With an understanding of the isolation experienced by many of Oregon’s teachers of color, in her remarks, Simmons emphasized, “You are not alone.”
Perhaps the most powerful evidence of that reassurance came in the form of a panel discussion with current and past Oregon teachers of the year. BIPOC educators Ethelyn Tumalad (2022) , Nicole Butler-Hooten (2021) , Mercedes Muñoz (2020) , Keri Pilgrim (2019) and Gloria Pereyra-Robertson (2017) shared their experiences and honest reflections in a conversation moderated by Gerardo Muñoz, Colorado’s 2021 teacher of the year.
As one teacher confessed to feeling she had, “no mentors, no pathways” to help her navigate through her experience as one of the only teachers of color at her school, others offered hope and perspective.
“We are seeing a social justice shift…[but] I recall not knowing how much of my Indigenous self to bring to the classroom. This work can be lonely,” one educator empathized.
Another shared how exhausted they felt from endlessly “code switching” through multiple contextual environments, “from classroom to parent meeting to department, staff and district [professional development].”
When the panel was asked what advice they had to offer their younger selves, the wisdom shared was both reflective and practical. Early career and pre-service teachers were listening closely, as those with more experience nodded in agreement.
“Teaching is a journey. Pace yourself. I am a totally different person and educator than when I started. Do not feel you need to do it all today.”
“Find the shoes that are comfortable for you.”
“We serve out of our identity. [DEI-related work at schools] is largely unpaid labor. It’s ok to say no.”
“Remember to make time for your family.”
“Eat your lunch. Go to the restroom. Drink your water.”
“Bring truth to your passion.”
As one attendee shared, "The community coming together was just so powerful. To hear the voices of BIPOC educators was incredibly inspiring.”
In all, the event featured 24 speakers and six breakout sessions that covered a range of content — from elevating student voice and leadership, to teaching climate change in the context of Indigenous history. Educators also learned about ongoing efforts to build and strengthen a statewide coalition for educators of color in Oregon.
Diarese George, a founder and executive director of the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance shared the journey that he and others have taken to leverage the connection and support for and by educators of color into a movement that influences educational policy and decision making.
George notes that nationally, “We are losing more teachers of color than we are gaining.” This, he said, means that “Retention is our biggest opportunity.”
Speaker and director of Oregon’s Educator Advancement Council (EAC), Kimberly Matier shared that the majority of the Regional Educator Networks funded by the EAC are focused on retaining the diversity within our education workforce. These efforts, in conjunction with the grow your own (GYO) teacher pathway programs also funded through the EAC, are creating a new eco-system of support for diverse educators. Meyer has joined these efforts and granted over $1 million to increase and retain diverse educators in Oregon. In addition, our Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative includes education as one of its five community-identified priorities, with specific goals to increase the number of Black educators and administrators by 2025 and to improve Black student academic, social and emotional outcomes.
Meyer is so honored to help connect and support educators of color as we collectively work to advance equitable education efforts and outcomes. As a foundation whose mission centers racial and social justice, Meyer believes the importance of diverse educators reflecting Oregon’s diverse student populations cannot be overstated.
We’ve noticed that recent news coverage on the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF) has led to a few public calls for a pause in its work. Some of those calls have cited accountability and oversight issues raised in a recent city audit of the program released in March.
As a longtime funder of many of the organizations that came together to create PCEF, we want to share our perspective on why we feel that’s the wrong call.
For years, Meyer Memorial Trust has been investing in the community based organizations that came together to create PCEF, which 65% of Portland voters approved in 2018. Meyer has also supported the majority of PCEF grantees to date. Why? Because these organizations have a track record of designing and implementing effective solutions by and for their communities to address myriad challenges on issues like housing, energy, transportation, pollution reduction and more. These are the leaders we need to follow in the face of the climate crisis.
They believe, as we do, that the climate emergency we face requires bold and rapid action that is grounded in the wisdom and expertise of communities on the frontlines. Those who are experiencing the greatest impacts from climate change — including wildfire, drought, heat waves, hurricanes and floods — are best positioned to create appropriate solutions. An understanding of the interwoven nature of our climate challenges with issues like access to safe and affordable housing, quality food and living-wage jobs is a particularly strong aspect of an innovative program like PCEF.
In designing the fund, organizations like Coalition of Communities of Color, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Verde, Native American Youth and Family Center, OPAL Environmental Justice and the NAACP Portland Branch wanted to do more than simply fund energy efficiency, clean energy retrofits and green infrastructure. They also wanted to invest in the capacity of frontline communities to lead and execute solutions. The innovations baked into PCEF are designed to create new possibilities for those who have historically benefited the least from government programs, in particular those from communities of color and low-wealth communities.
While we know this makes intuitive sense to most, we fear that a limited understanding of accountability will also limit our collective ability to achieve broader, deeper and more lasting impact — on climate and many other important issues.
In the case of PCEF, a fuller understanding of accountability must acknowledge and correct how our own governance systems have their own biases. Those biases have resulted in disparate benefits to white communities at the expense of communities of color. The recent city audit of PCEF highlighted the ways in which it is walking the fine line between the risks required of those on the cutting edge of change and the scrutiny that comes with the use of public funding. In our view, that is the very work that is needed.
Audits are meant to identify actions for correction and improvement. It’s no surprise that in standing up a new and innovative program like PCEF, this first audit has identified areas for improvement. However, the last thing that we should do in the face of the climate emergency is pause this program. Further, with large amounts of federal funding being allocated toward rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine ways of investing not only in infrastructure, but in the resiliency of our communities themselves. With a strong PCEF in place, Portland’s frontline communities will be positioned to bring their leadership, vision and capacity to leverage this tremendous investment.
The intertwined crises of climate change and injustice require rapid and intentional adaptation. PCEF is a model for how to do just that. Portlanders overwhelmingly saw the promise of PCEF, trusting the wisdom of communities most impacted by the climate crisis, when they voted for it. Pausing now would be yet another breach of trust with communities who’ve endured a legacy of broken promises. It would stall important progress on one of the most ambitious and innovative community-led efforts to address our climate emergency in Oregon and the nation.
As Thanksgiving approaches, many Oregonians are looking forward to gathering in celebration with their loved ones. But for many Indigenous people, the holiday is a painful reminder of the slaughter and oppression of their ancestors and the lasting legacy of colonialism and white supremacy in the United States. In particular, my heart and thoughts are with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) and their families in Oregon and beyond.
With the recent disappearances of Rena Mendenhall, Kennedie Hernandez and Lyssabelle Balinger, it’s clear we need to do more to act on this long standing epidemic and acknowledge the colonial roots that perpetuate it. While Oregon is one of only nine states that has brought legislative attention to this issue, progress has been slow and the work remains underfunded.
In 2019, Rep. Tawna Sanchez (Shoshone-Bannock/Ute/Carrizo) wrote and was instrumental in passing House Bill 2625 which called for a study to identify the scope of the MMIWP crisis in Oregon. The bill passed unanimously and the Oregon State Police (OSP) committed to leading a task force focused on the issue, albeit with no additional funding. That same year, the U.S. Department of Justice launched the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative and Cedar Wilke Gillette (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara; Turtle Mountain Chippewa descendant) was appointed Oregon’s first Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Coordinator. This was followed by a statewide listening tour and the release of OSP’s Report on Missing and Murdered Native American Women, detailing some of the barriers to reporting and investigating missing Native American women and people, and providing recommendations for continuing action.
These are vitally important first steps for Oregon, but they’re just the beginning of the deeper work we must do to address MMIWP in our state. The pandemic limitations on gatherings shortened the Listening and Understanding Tour and a lack of additional funding limited the OSP report’s methodology. Oregon can and must do more.
In her report on the issue, Portland State University graduate Michaela Madrid (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) made a number of recommendations which call for greater inclusion of Indigenous MMIWP survivors, family members, scholars and community leaders to address this epidemic. She calls for the hiring of Native American researchers and the addition of a Tribal relations director within the Oregon State Police department. Meyer believes implementing these recommendations would provide a more meaningful resource for decision-makers, funders and Oregon’s Inidigenous communities.
Here at Meyer, we are committed to advocating for not only greater awareness, but more crucially action, including additional funding and increased consultation and engagement of Oregon’s Indigenous communities most impacted by the MMIWP crisis. Our current efforts are focused on directly supporting individuals and families in need of immediate support during their time of crisis, including those involved in searches for missing relatives, after care for loved ones found and, unfortunately, funeral expenses when needed. Earlier this month, Meyer provided a grant to the Na’ah Illahee Fund (NIF), an Indigenous women-led organization dedicated to the ongoing regeneration of Indigenous communities. Following the recommendations of their community advisory council, NIF will distribute grants to those most impacted by the MMIWP crisis.
The MMIWP crisis is only one example of the destructive living legacies of racism, slavery and colonization. Public agencies and private funders must work together, following the lead of our tribal and urban Native communities to address historic and current harms. A flourishing and equitable future for all Oregonians is intrinsically tied to the well-being and prosperity of our state’s Indigenous communities.
The following are the names of MMIWP in Oregon. I hope you will keep them and their families in your hearts as you reconnect with yours this holiday season.
Lisa Pearl Briseno, Mavis Kirk-Greeley, Mavis Josephine McKay, Heather Leann Cameron, Avery Chester Charles, Jerome Clements Charles, Shaydin Jones-Hoisington, Leona Sharon Kinsey, Roger Jacob LeMieux, Sennia Pacheco, Zachary Silatqutaq Bashir Porter, Tryone Beau Robinson, Tina Vel Spino, Gunner Bailey, Jonathan Thomas Gilbert, Gregory Scott Peters, Leslie Shippentower, Selena Shippentower, Sophia Rosenda Strong, Lynette Watchman, Melissa Wilson, Rena Mendenhall, Kennedie Hernandez, Lyssabelle Ballinger and those still unknown and unnamed.
I recently received an invitation for the 30-year anniversary of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, a nonprofit where I served as the founding executive director early in my career. This was long before sitting where I am, now, at the helm of one of the largest foundations in Oregon. I am incredibly proud of the work that the Environmental Justice Alliance has continued and will always remember the blood, sweat and tears that it took to move environment and climate justice forward on the front lines of that movement.
This anniversary has me reflecting on the number of roles I’ve played fighting for a more just world. I’ll admit to some cognitive dissonance here. Now, I am more removed from the day to day frontlines of community work than I have been at any point in my career.And yet, I hold more ability to direct resources toward the solutions that could change our realities in a region — through climate, education, housing and community-building movements — than I have at any other point. This power imbalance is a fundamental truth about philanthropy, one that has long been a part of the relationship between funders and organizations doing the work. And it’s a dynamic I have come to disagree with.
How did we get here, as a field, that our own systems of accountability replicate the very power imbalances and inequities of the systems we’re seeking to change? It’s important to understand that philanthropy is rooted in capitalism, and was founded on the idea that wealth indicates ability. Early U.S. philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie were clear about this belief. Carnegie outlined this philosophy in an essay entitled, “Wealth,” published in the North American Review over 130 years ago, in June 1889. In this essay, later widely known as “The Gospel of Wealth,” Carnegie writes that the wealthiest in our society should make decisions on behalf of the poorest, for the benefit of those without means. “The millionaire will be but a trustee for the poor,” who stewards vast sums of money “for the community far better than it could or would have done for itself."
If we pull at this thread, it’s clear that Carnegie’s philanthropic gospel has influenced much of the ways we approach grantmaking today as a field. Foundations make decisions about what communities need and direct resources and power to that end. Thirty years ago, when I sat in my office at the Environmental Justice Alliance, I didn’t have time or energy to unpack the ways that funders were gatekeeping important community work, but I knew that when I received an urgent request for a press release from a funder, I was irked.
Modern American philanthropy, to a large degree, is built on Carnegie’s notion that wealthy people are somehow uniquely equipped to solve the wicked problems we face as a society. That wealth is to be administered to the masses in controlled doses, reinforcing the underlying assumption that people who are poor would simply not be able to make sound decisions with the means they need. The Carnegie gospel says it’s someone else's responsibility — namely, the richest among us — to manage solving societal ailments and that the communities most harmed by scarcity, discrimination and divestment are not to be trusted to make their own decisions about what’s best for them and their families.
I am committed to changing this dynamic. It is crucial that those of us working in philanthropy commit ourselves to interrogating the roots of our sector and charting a new and equitable path forward. We in the philanthropic sector must forge a new way of thinking and put that into action.
The simple fact is, there is no one more knowledgeable or better equipped to build a more just world than those who have lived their lives closest to injustice. People with lived experience and communities who outsmart oppression in order to survive and thrive have the keenest and most valuable insights about solutions that remove systemic inequities and dismantle barriers that hold people back. We need to face the truth that it isn't that communities don't have solutions, they are not given the opportunity or resources to put these solutions into play.
With this belief fixed in our minds, Meyer is trying something different.
We are striving to be more intentional in our grantmaking, to do our work in such a way that Black, brown and Indigenous communities, and those who have lived through the problems we’re grappling with have power to direct Meyer’s resources, internally and externally. This means that our partnerships with these communities will ever-deepen, and our focus will remain on the strengths that women and people of color bring to navigating the unjust and antiquated systems that we can together reimagine.
Last Summer, we established Justice Oregon for Black Lives, a multiyear, multi-million dollar initiative dedicated not only to funding Black-led and serving Black organizations, but to - as Program Director D’Artagnan Caliman recently wrote - Black wisdom, resistance, resilience and joy. We are listening to community voices and taking their lead. This is all a part of Meyer’s new gospel. A gospel not only of wealth, but of health and equity, listening and liberation. A gospel of trust in the communities we are committed to serving, not as saviors but as partners. I am beyond excited to announce that our first call for proposals for Justice Oregon grantees will be posted here next Monday, August 23.
We also know that change is not only necessary in what funding goes out our doors, but also the work environment we establish behind them. For the past three years, the staff, leadership and Board of Meyer have embarked on an institutional introspection and culture-shifting journey focused on listening, learning and building the competencies we need to halt and heal the harm of a status quo past. We have a story to tell here, and a promise to the field to show our work so that others may learn from our journey and our lessons learned. We will share more about this process in the coming weeks as well.
I am hopeful that other leaders, philanthropists and foundations will take up the charge by intentionally investing in community power, and structuring work so that people with lived experience are central to defining and creating the solutions their communities need, and given the resources and trust to bring those solutions to life. I know that we can reimagine and rebuild the ways that philanthropy works, hand-in-hand with frontline communities. We can write new verses to this gospel together.
What did five years and $16 million in investment in affordable housing mean for Meyer Memorial Trust and its partners active in affordable housing efforts across Oregon?
In our report, Moving the Needle: A Reflection on Five Years of Investment in Oregon’s Affordable Housing Landscape, Meyer staff reflects back on the challenges, setbacks, clear “wins” and lessons learned from designing and implementing a strategic philanthropic initiative. In addition to robust and lively discussions among the team about what we take forward from this work, we reached out to dozens of key partners in nonprofits, other funders and government to get more perspective on how the Affordable Housing Initiative was received.
We hope you’ll find this summary of the biggest takeaways useful and relevant. We see this as a contribution to the rich ongoing dialogue about impact and strategy in philanthropy, and welcome comments, questions and dialogue to promote more shared learning and insight.