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.
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.
A beautiful sunrise in Oregon
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.
Argyle Gardens, a sustainable apartment community in the Kenton neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Transition Projects.
Last week, Oregonians across the state experienced an unwelcome taste of how unchecked climate change might impact our lives in the future. A record-breaking heat wave in the Pacific Northwest killed hundreds, including more than 100 people in Oregon. The scorching heat helped fuel what is expected to be an early and active wildfire season, pushing the Governor to declare a state of emergency in an attempt to speed firefighting response and resources to a state that is almost entirely in extreme drought.
In addition to our rural neighbors who are most proximate to the areas at highest wildfire risk, many of those who died last week were older people who lived alone without fans or air conditioning. Summer programming and free meal distributions at schools were halted in some areas—supports that many families and children depend on. With temperatures as high as 117 degrees, even traditional respites like community pools were closed because it was simply too hot for people to safely work or recreate in such extreme temperatures.
My heart breaks for the family of Francisco Perez, a 38-year-old farm worker from Guatemala, whose death in the fields of a tree farm in St. Paul highlights the shameful fact that many in our agricultural community do not yet have critical health and safety protections at work. An executive order, developed in part to mitigate the effects of climate change, directed state agencies to create rules that would have required that those who work outdoors have access to shade, water, and rest breaks during extreme heat. Those rules have come too late for Mr. Perez.
Now, we find ourselves at another crossroads. Will the events of the last week serve as a turning point or a point of no return for Oregonians? Do we understand that what’s at stake is not just our immediate future, but the health and value of this Earth for generations to come?
What might a path towards a more just climate future look like?
In recognizing the undeniable fact of climate change, it’s clear we must defossilize our energy and economic sectors. While the Pacific Northwest has been a focal point for new fossil fuel infrastructure development projects, tribal and community-led efforts have been working arm in arm to fight proposals like the Pacific Connector fracked gas pipeline in Southern Oregon. This coalition of the Klamath and other tribes, landowners, businesses, climate and conservations groups, and residents understand that moving away from our reliance on fossil fuels is not easy, but the transition costs to business pales in comparison to the societal impacts of dragging our collective feet.
I am grateful to public health and social justice coalitions, such as the Oregon Just Transition Alliance, who are working to center the voices of historically marginalized people who are the most impacted by climate change. Thanks largely to their efforts, Oregon will transition its electricity to 100% clean energy by 2040, while centering benefits for communities of color and rural, coastal, and low-income communities and workers. Oregon will also invest $10 million in a new Healthy Homes Repair Fund at the Oregon Health Authority to support low-income Oregonians with energy efficiency retrofits. The Energy Affordability Act will help low-income families afford their energy bills.
In reaching these important milestones, what we are collectively saying is “no more excuses.” The best time to transition was 10 years ago. The next best time is now.
Our own natural resources can help solve this problem. The forests of western Oregon have a higher carbon density than almost any other forest type in the world, which means they play an unique role in storing carbon. Allowing these trees to grow bigger and older is a critical climate strategy. Additionally, more conservation, restoration and improved land management actions increase carbon storage across other lands—agricultural, grasslands and deserts. This also makes our landscapes and communities more resilient in the face of climate change driven wildfires.
Rogue Forest Partners unites nonprofits and government agencies to restore resilience to dry, fire-prone forests and to the nearby communities facing high wildfire risk in the Rogue Basin. With leadership from initiative-partner, Lomakatsi, the project is also developing job and contracting opportunities for tribal members and immigrant forest workers and the businesses they own, as well as building their capacity to play leadership roles in the governance of the Initiative.
We need to combine this with innovation from the private sector as we did with electric cars, renewable energy and carbon removal. Let innovation drive a just transition and see the jobs that follow. We must also make sure that investments into the innovative breakthroughs of tomorrow, as well as their outcomes are equitably distributed. This is how we guarantee our collective resiliency in the face of climate change. It is quite literally, the opportunity of our lifetimes.
Oregonians are pragmatic. So let’s be honest with ourselves. We caused this mess for future generations to deal with. It is our responsibility to clean it up.
Crises don’t solve themselves. People solve them. The first step in doing this is to say we will. We will and must reach a turning point where we quit pointing fingers at other countries or other states and quibbling about what they are or aren’t doing. This doesn’t require another commission or a task force. Leaders like Huy Ong of OPAL, and Vivian Satterfield of Verde have been planning a just transition that brings everyone along for years. We need to back them and others leading the charge in our state, and find ways to speed up their work, not make it harder.
Taking no action is choosing the point of no return. Let’s decide to protect Oregon’s way of life. Let’s take this turn together.
An Oregon road winding through trees.
Well, it’s been a year. A year of remote work and remote education for so many; of forced precarity and impossible choices for so many more. A year of distance from loved ones. A year of the most widespread Black-organized and Black-led uprisings for racial justice the nation has seen in decades, here in Portland and around the world. A year of fear and of care like no other.
As Spring turns to Summer, I’m thinking about transitions and transformations. What it means to emerge from the invisible to the undeniable, the margins to the mainstream, from suffering to solidarity. From enslavement to emancipation.
What it means to truly be free.
All of Meyer Memorial Trust will be marking Juneteenth this year. Juneteenth has been celebrated for many decades by Black families as a date when the last enslaved people in the nation finally learned they were free. This year, the Oregon State Senate voted unanimously to officially recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday beginning in 2022. The U.S. Senate followed suit and unanimously passed a bill to establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday. While overdue, it is still worthwhile as it is essential to have momentous dates of liberation on our shared national calendar.
Juneteenth, much like the Fourth of July, is both a celebration and a warning. It is a promise of what could be but has never yet been; a challenge against complacency and a call for constant vigilance.
This past year gave me a shot in the arm. Yes, the one that helped me see my aging parents in person again and lets me work from the beautiful, new Meyer headquarters in historic Albina. But also another one: the shot in the arm that inoculated me against the illusion that progress is secure, that justice is inevitable. The work will never be done, so I need to be clear on what it will take this year, next year and in the years to come to bring us closer to correcting the wrongs of history and bringing us closer to justice.
On Juneteenth, we can remember, reflect and recognize that liberation is achievable. But it won’t come only from marking a date in the past, it will come when we make liberation our destiny.
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
"In conscious recognition of an imperfect past, it is what we do in the present that creates the change we seek."
So begins “Our Place in Oregon History,” the recently released visual introduction to Meyer’s new headquarters in North Portland. Portland filmmaker Donielle Howard captures soaring and luminous footage of our building — its thoughtfully considered spaces, sustainable footprint and meaningful artwork, all of which represent the hope and inspiration that drives our work at Meyer.
But the new space is only part of the story. Our home in the heart of the lower Albina neighborhood of North Portland also compels us to share the history of the land that our headquarters now sits upon. Alongside Howard’s beautiful images is a timeline of an uglier truth: historical signposts of a complex, somber and, at times, deeply shameful side of Oregon’s founding and the legacy of white supremacy and colonialism in our shared history.
I hope you’ll find the nine minutes in your day it will take to experience this story — and that it leaves you thinking more about what it means to create a more perfect future, with conscious recognition of the past.
March is also Women’s History Month, which also gives me an opportunity to celebrate the many women who brought this building to life and to highlight the important role that women played in the project.
First, I am grateful to Anyeley Hallova, formerly of Project^ and now, Adre, Ali O’Neill of O’Neill Construction Group, Chandra Robinson, project director at LEVER architecture and our own Phoebe O’Leary. The fierce intellect, resourcefulness, passion and creativity from this all-women team was integral to achieving a highly ambitious vision: a physical expression of Meyer’s values in a beautiful, enduring form.
In addition to our incredible leadership team, 47 percent of the Meyer headquarters construction budget was devoted to women and minority-owned subcontractors, 30 percent of the journey people and apprentice hours were filled by historically marginalized and under-resourced populations, including communities of color, women contractors and workers, underserved rural communities and people with disabilities. Ten percent of the hours were filled by women. Additionally, 80 percent of the subcontractors on the site were either women and/or minority-owned businesses; with 20 percent being “stretch” opportunities to give smaller companies the opportunity to grow and expand their portfolio.
While the pandemic has delayed our ability to celebrate these accomplishments in person, I hope that, with the vaccination rollout gaining steam, we will soon be able to welcome you in person to the building.
What a year it’s been. Here’s hoping that the coming year sees more justice and more equity, more resilience and resistance to the systems that continue to harm our communities and our land, and an even deeper reckoning with our past so that we may all better understand our shared history in order to build together a more collective future.
A view through the windows of Meyer Memorial Trust's new headquarters
On Tuesday, eight people, including seven women — six of whom were Asian Americans — were killed at three separate spas across Atlanta. Meyer Memorial Trust mourns the innocent lives caught in the crossfires of white supremacy, misogyny and racism. We send strength to their families, communities and loved ones. We stand in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and all who condemn anti-Asian hate and violence.
Yesterday, a new intelligence report warning of the rising threat of domestic terrorism was delivered to Congress. This report comes shortly after Stop AAPI Hate released findings that over the past year alone there have been nearly 3,800 anti-Asian racist incidents, mostly against women. Clearly, these brutal slayings along with the recent rise in violent rhetoric and attacks against AAPI-identifying people are rooted in anti-Asian hate, racism and violence against women. This is nothing new but another stark reminder of the deep roots that xenophobia, white nationalism, racism and misogyny have in the United States.
The data are sound: Misogyny has an explicit economic cost for women, particularly women of color. We know that racism literally terrorizes, harms and kills people every single day, and everyone pays the high cost. White supremacy rooted in structural and systemic racism is like a carcinogenic parasite, constantly mutating, wreaking havoc and draining the life of its host, our country. Dismantling white supremacy and misogyny cannot be subjects of only academic concern to be studied. It will not be an easy lift, but undoing this crippling ailment will benefit us all.
It’s time for allies to step up. Just as white nationalist hate and violence target all communities of color, so must movements for justice work together to defeat the forces that seek to oppress us. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. Our struggles for liberation against oppression are interconnected, inseparable and always stronger in partnership. The writer and social activist Langston Hughes spoke 78 years ago to this solidarity between South Asian and Black communities fighting for basic rights, dignity and humanity in a poem entitled “How About It?” It includes these lines:
Show me that you mean
Democracy, please —
Cause from Bombay to Georgia
I’m beat to my knees
We must unite across sectors and as a nation to stop AAPI hate and stand against the violence of racism and white supremacy. Meyer is committed to fighting anti-Asian hate, bigotry, sexism and racism in all the forms that are woven throughout our nation’s fabric. We vow to continue uplifting, empowering and serving AAPI-identifying people, while working toward achieving our mission of a flourishing and equitable Oregon.
Bigotry and prejudice should have no place in our lives, and we remain committed to building a more equitable, safe and just world.
Meyer Memorial Trust staff and board stand with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in Oregon and around the country.
We vehemently condemn the despicable anti-Asian American rhetoric and its intended and inevitable violent consequences — abuse, assault and murder — that have alarmingly risen in recent months and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though this pain is not new, it is exacerbated in these trying times, troubling reminders of how deeply rooted xenophobia, discrimination and white supremacy are within our society. It must end. Oregon has a long history to wrestle with that includes the Hells Canyon Massacre, exclusions of Chinese “non-residents” in our state constitution and the stain of intergenerational trauma as a result of the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States.
We at Meyer are committed to helping uncover and dismantle the systems that are advancing this hate. We do so, not because we have family members or personally identify as AAPI, though many of us do. We condemn this bigotry because being silent is unacceptable and our vision is to build an Oregon that is humane and just.
— Meyer Memorial Trust staff & board
I recently had the opportunity to testify on the importance of a diverse teacher workforce and share Meyer’s work to support educators of color. Here's the extended version of that testimony with deep appreciation to all the educators who have helped inform it. —Bekah
For the record, my name is Bekah Sabzalian. I am the equitable education program officer at Meyer Memorial Trust, a licensed Oregon teacher and a member of the Multnomah Clackamas Region Educator Network. I am Apache and Mexican American with family ties to the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. I have worked in education for the last 13 years: in a nonprofit, in the largest district in the state and now in philanthropy.
When I taught sixth grade, my school’s reading specialist recommended a book for my students called Homeless Bird. She told me it was an award winning realistic fiction novel about a 13-year-old East Indian girl whose parents marry her off to a much older man. I asked if the book was written by an Indian or Indian American author, considering the sensitivity of the subject matter and thinking specifically of the impact on the Indian American students in my class.
As it turns out, the book was written by a white woman from the Midwest with no ties to India. The story was totally imagined—pure fiction. It contained a number of false and outdated representations of Indian life and culture.
If I hadn’t already experienced the impact of damaging stories and misrepresentation about Native and Latinx people, I may not have had the sensitivity—or the courage, quite frankly— to question this district-promoted book.
What teachers present to students is powerful. When I declined to teach that book, my colleagues were angry with me at first. But we learned and made progress together benefiting all students.
The advantages of a diverse teaching workforce are well supported by research. Teachers of color embody possibilities for all students. White students benefit from exposure to people of color in leadership positions and exposure to different cultural backgrounds, while students of color benefit from seeing people who look like them in positive, impactful careers. With a diverse teaching workforce, all students are better prepared for their futures.
Teachers of color are often called upon to lead professional development on race and equity in schools, to assist with language translation, and as my personal story just illustrated, often arrive in classrooms with cultural assets that they actively grow and share throughout their careers.
Since 2017 Meyer Memorial Trust has invested over $1.5 million in teacher pathway and grow your own programs around the state. From Hood River to Southern Oregon and Salem to the Coast, these programs are developing strategies to recruit diverse teachers. But recruitment is not enough. To truly make these investments impactful, we must retain the diverse teachers these efforts support. To that end, Meyer’s Equitable Education portfolio has invested over $4.5 million in district and regional efforts designed to increase cultural inclusion, address bias in schools and create conditions where all teachers and students can excel.
These investments were informed by educators of color. For the last three years, Meyer has convened educators of color to learn what challenges and motivates them. Allowing participants to collectively problem-solve and network. A key theme emerges every year: isolation. Educators of color, especially those in districts with extremely low percentages of diverse teachers feel very alone. This causes many to think of leaving the profession. Growing the number of diverse teachers is essential to retaining those already working in schools across the state. Growth can only occur through a two-prong approach: investment in both recruitment and retention efforts. As a member of the Multnomah Clackamas Region Educator Network, I know we are beginning to make progress.
There is unprecedented coordination between districts, philanthropy, universities, state agencies and community organizations to comprehensively address the lack of diverse teachers in Oregon. As we face an uncertain economic future, I ask that you do all in your power to protect these investments and advance the growth and retention of this important resource for our students and for the future of Oregon’s communities.
Oregon teachers and Meyer staff at the 2018 Teachers of Color Gathering at the Thomas Aschenbrener Center for Philanthropy in Portland.