There is no doubt that communities across Oregon are struggling, but there are hopeful signs in 2021 and good reasons to believe that better days are on the horizon. In this uncertain time, we are committed to maintaining Meyer’s largest funding program to ensure that resources flow to community-driven solutions and work across the state. This week I am pleased to share that Meyer’s Annual Funding Opportunity will open on March 15, 2021, with applications due by April 19.
Last year, our Annual Funding Opportunity opened just as the COVID-19 pandemic reached Oregon and upended daily life. We knew then — as we know now — that extraordinary times call for more, innovative support. Over the past year, we have added to our regular grantmaking with dedicated funding for COVID and wildfire responses, for example, and tapped our endowment to launch Meyer’s largest ever initiative, Justice Oregon for Black Lives. This year again, we will sustain a larger overall grantmaking commitment.
On March 1, we will hold an information session online to share more about this year’s Annual Funding Opportunity. We’ll go over each portfolio’s goals, talk about Meyer’s approach to equity and answer your questions. You can register for the Zoom session here and check out other opportunities to connect with portfolio staff. In the meantime, you can learn more about the portfolios’ funding priorities in the summaries below and follow the links for more details.
Please note that Justice Oregon for Black Lives will not be part of the Annual Funding Opportunity as the funding approach for the initiative will be developed in-partnership with community input. Justice Oregon Initiative director D’Artagnan Caliman wrote about opportunities to connect and learn about the initiative last week, here.
Building Community portfolio
Inequitable outcomes for communities of color are far from new, but the pandemic and reckoning with systemic racism have brought a heightened awareness to these challenges. To help address them, the Building Community portfolio will continue to focus on people of color, Indigenous communities and Tribes and immigrants and refugees. Applicants must have implemented strategies designed specifically to benefit at least one of these populations. In addition to focusing on these communities, Building Community will continue to use a three part criteria to guide review of funding requests: operationalized DEI, connection to systems change and community engagement.
We encourage proposals that promote a more inclusive, participatory democracy that transforms structures based on exclusion and build power for communities at the margins. We also seek proposals that will create meaningful connections within and between communities that build a strong sense of belonging.
Please visit Building Community's page to learn more.
Equitable Education portfolio
As schools across Oregon prepare for students to return to the classroom over the next year, the Equitable Education portfolio seeks to support public school districts and nonprofit partners as they strive to meet the demands of this critical moment. If we learned anything last year, it was that “business as usual” is no longer possible. Oregon student data demonstrate that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the learning trajectory of all students, but none more than priority students.
While the challenges of this past year have and will continue to test our education system, Meyer’s 2021 Annual Funding Opportunity seeks to establish student supports and accelerate innovative approaches that meet the resilience of our priority students with exceptional, relevant programming in the areas of kindergarten readiness, literacy in the primary grades, high school graduation and college and career readiness as well as attendance across the K-12 continuum. For partners seeking to advance education equity for priority students through systems- and policy-level change, successful proposals will address the immediate and urgent needs of today’s priority students while establishing a foundation for meeting the future and ever-evolving needs of tomorrow’s students.
Please see Equitable Education's page to learn more.
Healthy Environment portfolio
The varying events of the past year — the Covid-19 pandemic, reckoning for racial justice and climate change-driven wildfires — have laid bare the stark reality that there is no denying the urgent need for social transformation and supports efforts that tackle the challenges of racism and ecological collapse with solutions that address the underlying drivers of these interconnected crises.
The 2021 Annual Funding Opportunity will support efforts to build power in communities to resist the continued exploitation of people and planet, as well as create and implement innovative approaches to healing our relationship with nature and each other. To complement these approaches, we will continue to fund work to build a more inclusive and equitable movement for a healthy environment. Grants will support a mix of statewide, regional and place-based efforts in urban and rural Oregon, including Tribal nations and prioritize the needs of communities that experience environmental disparities.
Please see Healthy Environment's page to learn more.
Housing Opportunities portfolio
We’ve always known that safe and affordable housing is the foundation for family stability, health, education and inclusive communities. And advocates have made progress in recent years to remove barriers to affordable housing, secure more resources for housing development and supportive services, and address racist and colonialist systems that hold back our BIPOC neighbors and the wider housing field.
If we are to emerge from the pandemic and economic fallout without massive evictions and displacement, we need bolder solutions grounded in racial justice. Our three high-level housing goals remain the same this coming funding cycle, but we're looking to support work that matches the urgency and emphasis on racial justice this moment demands. We encourage proposals that seek to mobilize, build power and advocacy by and for impacted communities. Proposals to curb the speculators and lenders motivated to tear apart communities in search of profit. As well as proposals that align resources and systems for more equitable outcomes and racial justice. Think boldly and aim high. We don’t have time to waste.
Please see Housing Opportunities’ page to learn more.
We know that nonprofits across the state continue rising to respond to complex challenges, meeting them with creativity, heart and vision. We look forward to learning about the work you are prioritizing when our Annual Funding Opportunity opens March 15.
D’Artagnan Bernard Caliman joins Meyer as new Director of Justice Oregon for Black LivesdarionWed, 12/02/2020 - 17:03
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.”
An Annual Funding Opportunity unlike any otherdarionWed, 11/18/2020 - 22:51
Two weeks after the election, November continues to provide fresh reminders that 2020 has been anything but business as usual.
Meyer Memorial Trust’s Annual Funding Opportunity opened in mid-March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic started radically changing daily life. At the time, there was a question of whether we should even go forward with our usual grantmaking, but the moment called for more immediate action and support in the midst of COVID-19 and the need to be responsive felt paramount. We received 320 applications, requesting $45 million in funding. Our 2020 Annual Funding Opportunity grant awards total $21.3 million, funding 150 projects at organizations working to make Oregon a flourishing and equitable home for all.
As nonprofits adapted to rapidly changing conditions of the pandemic, we knew Meyer had to come alongside with the flexibility that the field has been asking for and to move further toward principles of trust-based philanthropy. We prioritized making more general operating grants and experimented with accepting proposals written for other foundations. We removed report requirements for existing grants and began rethinking our reporting requirements and how to maximize learning without burdening grantees. We also moved faster this year, finalizing a robust round of grants in the spring and another in the fall.
Responsiveness is perhaps what 2020 has required of everyone most of all, as well as living our values while finding different ways of being and working to address significant interwoven challenges. Whether it’s the global pandemic, the nationwide reckoning with racial injustice or the worst wildfires in Oregon history, communities are navigating tremendous change and we are responding with additional support by tapping into our endowment.
But even in times of great uncertainty, there are things we know for sure:
Grass-roots and nonprofit organizations are integral to community resilience.
Eliminating long-standing inequities will require shifting underlying conditions that hold them in place.
Centering the communities that are most impacted by a problem—almost always Black, Indigenous and People of Color—generates the best solutions for everyone.
A healthy democracy will always be essential to actualizing a flourishing and equitable state for all Oregonians.
Grants across our Annual Funding Opportunity reflect the latest iterations of this work and we are proud to support community efforts that, taken together, help to show the way forward.
Below we highlight some themes among the 2020 AFO grants and provide examples of opportunities for change and progress in this time of challenge. You can also view the full list of awards sorted by portfolio here.
In the weeks following Feb. 28 and confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 in Oregon, all sectors generally had to pivot their operations to meet public health demands and respond to a new set of emerging and urgent needs. Even nonprofits that typically focus at a systemic level to create change were drawn into providing services directly to their constituents.
All 26 Oregon Habitat for Humanity affiliates experienced a significant disruption of programs and operations due to the coronavirus. To ensure adequate social distancing, home construction projects shifted to a paid-staff/subcontractor model instead of the volunteer workforce that has bolstered the Habitat community for decades. This change significantly increased the cost of 50 homes already underway. Habitat for Humanity of Oregon responded quickly by putting together a rapid response program that would pair a zero percent interest loan with a grant to close the gap on these homes that are already in construction and move 50 families into stable housing.
Familias en Accion was founded in response to the need for a culturally specific organization to promote health for the Latinx community in Oregon. Prior to COVID-19 Familias was serving nearly 600 Latinx clients and family members annually through its Community Health Worker program, which helps clients navigate complex health systems, removes barriers to care and provides chronic disease self-management education through long-term engagement. In Oregon, the Latinx community has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and monthly caseloads for Familias are closer to what they would have averaged in a year. Throughout the pandemic, the program has continued to provide clients critical information and referral services, access to client service funds and timely systems navigation.
Our democracy is not inherently just and requires ongoing collective attention. Groups received grants to advance civic engagement and create a more inclusive democracy. This includes a range of issues from Oregon’s pending legislative redistricting to voting rights and ensuring that appropriate implementation of recently passed policies such as the medical and family leave act.
More Equitable Democracy (MED) received a grant this year to advance racial equity through electoral systems reform. Fiscally sponsored by the Proteus Fund, MED is advancing Oregon’s voting rights protections by making it easier to challenge local electoral systems that present barriers for equitable representation.
Next Up (formerly Oregon Progress Forum) received a grant to serve as a political home for young people and a pipeline for civic engagement and power-building in Oregon. In the coming year, Next Up will continue to center Black, Indigenous and leaders of color in its service of equity-centered policy. This will primarily take shape in the form of leadership development, voter engagement and policy advocacy work aimed at making Oregon a place where policymakers are more accountable to younger generations.
Cascading disruptions set in motion by COVID-19 highlight the stark racial disparities in health, housing, education, environment access and economic stability in Oregon. As public officials work to address some aspects of the crisis, state and local governments are bracing for a shortage of revenue, a steep increase in people needing assistance of all kinds and competing leadership priorities at the federal level. In this environment, the need for organized advocacy by and in coordination with people directly affected by the multiple crises has never been more clear, as is the ability to define clear and compelling policy alternatives that center the needs of the communities that are most impacted by an issue or problem.
JOIN is helping inform public decision-making around the response to Oregon’s housing crisis, by elevating and amplifying the voices of the people who are most impacted. In essence, the priorities of these communities will help shape county, city and statewide responses to emerging housing issues, while also educating decision-makers about housing interventions that are known to be effective and equitable.
Unete, Beyond Toxics and PCUN are collaborating to elevate the voices of Latinx, Indigenous and migrant workers in the timber sector to help improve state forest practices and workplace safety rules. Immigrant forestry workers are typically hired to do the highly dangerous work of planting tree seedlings, spraying pesticides, setting chokers and helping get logs up steep slopes. These workers are the ones who often bear the brunt of pesticide exposure, higher temperatures and smoke inhalation on the job. The stories and experiences of migrant workers are missing from narratives about who makes up Oregon’s timber industry workforce.
Societies are complex. Many needs are not rigidly bound to individual topics and therefore must be addressed with an intersectional and multi-issue approach to achieve change. In support of this work, a number of groups received grants to support multi-issue organizing and advocacy efforts. Grantees addressed a range of issues such as challenging the normalization of the mass incarceration and deportation of non-citizens, building social infrastructure in rural communities for equity, supporting inclusion and participatory democracy and advocating for and securing millions in public dollars to support workers not eligible for unemployment insurance or other emergency federal relief tied to COVID-19.
Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP) received a grant to advance more equitable public policies through research and analysis and communication of findings. Working with a diverse set of coalitions and partnerships, OCPP work focuses on the well-being of Oregonians with the fewest economic resources and those who face the biggest barriers to success.
Hacienda CDC, Native American Youth and Family Center, Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East and Verde are partners in the Living Cully Collaborative, which works to address disparities in housing, income, health, education and natural resources in Portland's Cully neighborhood. Living Cully received a two-year grant to increase community-controlled assets, environmental investments and affordable housing, while preventing displacement of frontline communities.
The overlapping crises of 2020 have laid bare our economic system’s injustices for all to see. We have seen a growing appreciation by the public for the contributions and sacrifices that essential workers—farmworkers, service workers, health aides, hospital staff and so many more—are making for all us. The story of the unjust working conditions of essential workers— low wages, lack of health care and unhealthy workplace conditions—has also garnered new attention. A number of grants in this year are supporting work across Oregon to advance economic justice solutions that can set the stage for and deliver on the potential of a transformative economic recovery in the future.
Oregon Just Transition Alliance (OJTA) is a collaborative that aims to build frontline community power through grass-roots organizing around a “just transition,” a focus on building economic and political power to shift from a fossil-fuel based economy to a regenerative economy based on renewable energy. Embedded in this are economic justice goals for income equality by gender and race, good-paying jobs and allowing all people to reach their full potential. OJTA received a grant to organize communities around collective action on climate justice at a state level.
The Northwest Workers Justice Project supports the efforts of Oregon's most vulnerable workers to protect workplace dignity and to improve wages and working conditions by providing legal representation for individual workers as well as groups of workers, recovering stolen wages and addressing other employment issues including workplace abuse and safety.
Meyer’s flexible funding is well-positioned to support innovative practices such as pilot projects or applying familiar tools to new situations. We also look for opportunities in which our investments can support innovation and ways to evaluate its impact in a way that can bring lessons and learning to the field and advance equity in Oregon.
Attempts to address the multiple crises at hand has caused school districts to exceed their capacity and ability to respond. In this historic moment, the urgency of student needs cannot be overstated. Youth-serving organizations across Oregon have reaffirmed their commitment to developing innovative solutions that are designed to eliminate disparities in public education through direct response to student needs. Grantee partners such as Latino Community Association, Family Access Network and Kids Unlimited of Oregon are rapidly executing plans to address the current crisis while also keeping an eye toward long-term recovery efforts.
The environmental, economic and social justice problems of our global, industrial food systems are far-reaching. Pandemic-induced food shortages, such as what we recently experienced, are evidence that the global food supply chain is prone to falter in the face of shocks. Three partners of the PCUN’s Alianza Poder network, Black Food Sovereignty Coalition, High Desert Food & Farm Alliance and Warm Springs Community Action are building innovative local regenerative agriculture and sustainable food programs that also integrate cultural practices unique to Black, Indigenous and Tribal communities. As these efforts take root and scale up, they can become a driver for economic development, cultural revitalization and improving community and natural system health.
Meyer's 2020 Annual Funding Opportunity Grant Awards
The wildfires that continue to grip Oregon, burning nearly 1 million acres, have taken lives, devastated communities and compounded the stresses of multiple, ongoing disasters.
Meyer Memorial Trust mourns with Oregonians grieving the loss of life, homes and businesses, those evacuated and those struggling to breathe. We grieve the destruction of forests, wildlife and natural habitats. We appreciate the strong response by Oregonians and people from across the country that have stepped up already to provide immediate relief.
To support those most impacted by the wildfires, Meyer’s board of trustees last week approved $250,000 in new grants for communities wrestling with immediate needs, focusing on relief funds that reach the most impacted communities and people within those communities that have the least access to aid. The emergency wildfire relief fund grants are directed at bridging investment in six local United Way organizations working directly on relief, as well as relief efforts targeting priority populations hit hard by the fires and their aftermath. These grants include:
$60,000 to MRG Foundation for the Since Time Immemorial Fund, an effort to rapidly deploy resources to Tribal communities across the region when opportunity or need arises
$25,000 to CAUSA or Oregon for immediate relief support for Latinx and immigrant communities facing hardship from wildfires
$25,000 to MRG Foundation for the Rogue Valley Relief Fund, a crucial relief effort supporting people most impacted by wildfires in the Rogue Valley region
$25,000 to the United Way of Columbia-Willamette for relief support for communities facing hardship from wildfires in Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties
$25,000 to Willamette Valley Law Project for PCUN's Farmworker Emergency Fund, which provides relief support for farmworkers facing hardship from wildfires
$15,000 to Greater Douglas United Way for relief support for Douglas County communities facing hardship from wildfires
$15,000 to United Way of Southwestern Oregon for relief support for communities facing hardship from wildfires in Coos and Curry counties
$15,000 to United Way of Jackson County for relief support for Jackson County communities facing hardship from wildfires
$15,000 to United Way of Lane County for relief support for Lane County communities facing hardship from wildfires
$15,000 to United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley for relief support for communities facing hardship from wildfires in Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties
$15,000 to the Wildfire Relief Fund of the United Way of Linn, Benton and Lincoln Counties
Earlier last week, Meyer joined with Oregon Community Foundation and the Ford Family Foundation to create the Community Rebuilding Fund, a commitment to gather resources and plan for what comes next after the extraordinary devastation brought by wildfires across a state already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and consequences of racial injustice.
Meyer is grateful to be a partner in immediate and long-term recovery efforts to restore economic vitality and livability to communities, by focusing on those who face the biggest barriers to recovery. At Meyer, we believe that a core part of our mission for a flourishing and equitable Oregon calls us to join with other Oregonians in moments of severe crisis to support the resiliency of communities facing hardships. And we understand that underlying injustices caused by systemic racism and economic inequality intersect in a moment crisis, exacerbating historic disparities with new risk, trauma and harm.
For Meyer, the wildfires are a reminder that equity be a guiding star as the state looks to make sure vulnerable populations aren’t left behind when it comes to the immediate response, planning, rebuilding and recovery, specifically Black, Indigenous and people of color, immigrants and refugees, seniors and low-income Oregonians, groups that are more likely to be renters or unhoused.
We see an opportunity to design a recovery for Oregon that centers addressing structural racism and the need to confront climate change. The potential for a recovery that builds a regenerative and just economy that scales up many of the innovative practices and policies already happening in rural and urban communities across the state. An opportunity to link this recovery with the work Meyer is already supporting in communities across the state to decarbonize our economy and create high-wage jobs and job training to build clean energy infrastructure and restore our ecosystems. A clarion call to invest in work to help communities adapt and address root causes of the destructive and frequent wildfires that we are now experiencing as a result of climate change.
While these more intense and frequent wildfires are a symptom of the climate crisis, they are also the result of decades of fire suppression and forest management that have disrupted the natural fire regime of our forests by removing large trees. That is why Meyer supports efforts to change how Oregon manages and stewards forests and other wildlands, including Indigenous fire management, to improve forest structure, restore natural systems and support a fire regime that can be managed more predictably. Predictability would help us better address smoke and economic impacts on communities.
Finally, these wildfires have created and worsened a public health emergency in the middle of a global public health emergency. Shifting smoke and air quality indicators have solidified for Oregonians the connection between pollution, health and housing; and far too many of our neighbors experience terrible air quality in their homes or lack shelter even without wildfires.
At Meyer, we believe that a core part of our mission for a flourishing and equitable Oregon calls us to join with other Oregonians in moments of severe crisis to support the resiliency of communities facing hardships. And we understand that underlying injustices caused by systemic racism and economic inequality intersect in this moment of crisis, exacerbating historic disparities with new risk, trauma and harm.
Heeding the cries for justice: 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
Change is possible now: Justice Oregon for Black Lives
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
Justice Oregon for Black Lives: A five-year, $25 million commitment
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.
Locally, nationally and around the world communities are demanding policing and prison reforms. Simply put: Our current justice systems are not working to provide community safety.
As we at Meyer begin to look toward the future of what is needed for community safety and justice for all, we know that we cannot forget about the individuals and families that have been harmed by incarceration or jail. The long-term negative impacts of trauma, family and community separation, extended periods of supervision and regulatory conditions, community stigma, limited income, and reduced housing options increase the chances of recidivism and reincarceration. Poverty coupled with historical and institutional discrimination have led to the over incarceration of Black and Brown communities, and mass incarceration and policies that were designed to be tough on crime have perpetuated cycles of poverty and incarceration that continue to leave devastating effects on our communities.
Philanthropy must rise to its responsibility and disrupt this system of injustice.
In Oregon, tens of thousands of people have criminal records and the Oregon Health Authority estimates that about 26,000 people are released from jails and 5,500 people from federal and state prisons back into the community every year. Data show that people of color are more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system and people who have experienced incarceration or jail are more likely to experience higher rates of poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental health needs. There is growing recognition that successful reintegration into society for individuals involved in the criminal justice system benefits those individuals, their families and the broader community. Research from Prison Policy Initiative shows that housing can be a powerful pathway for individuals involved in the criminal justice system to transition out of the cycle of incarceration and back into the community or workforce and reduces the likelihood of an individual returning to jail or prison.
Supporting people who have been justice-involved to secure housing is one of the many ways that philanthropy can disrupt the cycle of incarceration and poverty.
In pursuit of Meyer’s vision of a flourishing and equitable Oregon, the Housing Opportunities portfolio released a Request for Proposals (RFP) on June 22 inviting applications from nonprofits, government agencies and organizations with existing re-entry programs.
The focus of the RFP is to fund interventions and supports that address housing stability gaps for people returning from state and federal prisons, local jails and juvenile facilities and those with past justice involvement and their families. This RFP will especially focus on funding work that addresses gaps in renter access due to past and present discriminatory systems and practices and efforts that advance marginalized populations in building a better life for themselves on a foundation of stable housing.
This funding opportunity will increase access to and retention of private market units for individuals living on low incomes who are also justice-involved by supporting effective strategies that engage private market landlords and management companies as partners in addressing affordable housing needs across Oregon communities.
During the video conference, we will provide participants with an informative overview of the new funding opportunity, offer ideas about what successful applications might look like for housing-focused organizations and much more.
Meyer Memorial Trust invites proposals that will increase access to quality private market housing units for individuals living on low-incomes who are also justice-involved. Up to $150,000, over two years, in new funding is available.
Applicants will be notified of their award status in late November, with funding available in early to mid-December.
Grant funds can be used for a variety of purposes to support the proposed project’s goals, including the following examples:
Project management or consulting services dedicated to furthering the project.
Hiring staff to support the project.
Approaches and strategies that will reduce screening barriers for individuals living on low-incomes who are also justice-involved such as reasonable accommodations or appeals, utility debt relief, rental applications, etc.
Evaluation and assessment.
Development of educational material, toolkits, manual of project.
Other uses as approved by Meyer.
Meyer staff will present an overview of the RFP and answer questions during two online information sessions on Friday, June 26, at 11am PST and Wednesday, July 8, at 11am PST. To attend, please visit the event registration page to receive details for joining the session. Attendance is encouraged but not mandatory.
Opinion: ‘Last-in, first-out’ isn’t equitable for teachers of color
As the state of Oregon wrestles with hundreds of millions of expected budget cuts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Oregonian published an opinion piece by Toya Fick, Meyer's board chair and the executive director of Stand for Children on the importance of teachers of color -- and the need to prioritize maintaining representation across the ranks of teachers.
Toya called on Oregon to reconsider its seniority-based layoff system to preserve hard-won increases in teachers of color:
Prioritizing the hiring of teachers of color doesn’t just benefit students of color, for whom the value of representation is well documented. Having teachers of color is critical to white students as well, who benefit from seeing people of color in leadership roles and are able to build personal connections that break down the inherent biases we all carry.
In fact, in 2016, researchers published a study that found that students of all races looked more favorably on teachers of color versus white teachers. Those favorable perceptions can translate into better academic outcomes including interest, motivation and even grades. Better representation and diversity among teachers directly translates to student success. This is especially critical as Oregon strives to improve our graduation rates, which have historically been among the worst in the nation.
Now, amidst statewide reductions of $2.7 billion in the current biennium and $4.4 billion in the 2021-23 budget period, our path to racial equity is facing roadblocks. Oregon law requires schools to consider a seniority-based layoff system, commonly referred to as “last-in, first-out," which prioritizes keeping teachers with seniority on staff and laying off the newest hires. This policy directly conflicts with efforts in recent years to hire teachers of color and close the race gap that has long troubled Oregon schools.
It has been more than ten weeks since Meyer’s offices closed and staff began working remotely when the pandemic hit Oregon. We thought we might be out for two weeks, but, like everyone else, we are adjusting as the world changes around us.
One thing that hasn’t changed is our value of responsiveness and our commitment to meeting our grantee partners where they are. As a foundation that centers equity in all of our work, we wanted to partner with organizations that gave us the best chance to deliver on that promise in a matter of days, not months. We know that no organization can do it all alone in times like this, so we have partnered with a range of philanthropic peers to ensure that nearly $2 million in grants from Meyer reached all corners of the state. This collaborative and multi-faceted response allowed us to support impacted Oregonians who may otherwise be made invisible in this moment, and to do so quickly by trusting partners who are in closest relationships with those communities to move resources where they are most needed.
Within the first week of closing our offices, we made grants to relief funds to support communities across Oregon to deal with immediate impacts of COVID-19. As realities of the pandemic continued unfolding and new relief efforts emerged, we contributed to funds addressing needs among some of the populations most impacted by the novel coronavirus, specifically undocumented workers, LGBTQ+ communities, as well as women and girls. Meyer grants in immediate response to COVID-19 include:
$1 million to the Oregon Community Recovery Grant Program at Oregon Community Foundation, which provides funds to nonprofit service providers in communities across the state that are particularly affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. Meyer staff is now participating on Community Advisory panels for the fund.
$150,000 to the Women’s Foundation COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund which provides support to domestic violence shelters, survivors of violence, organizations providing basic services to women, behavioral and mental health supports for children and youth as well as advocacy and organizing around gender inequities.
$250,000 to the Oregon Worker Relief Fund which provides financial support directly to Oregonians who have lost their jobs yet are ineligible for unemployment insurance and federal stimulus relief due to their immigration status. This fund was created by and is managed by community leaders, and draws on both public and private support, including a $10 million investment from the State of Oregon.
While $2 million is significant, it is far from the whole of Meyer’s response. Indeed, these immediate resources were deployed at the same time that we opened our Annual Funding Opportunity, through which more than $20 million will be awarded this year. Ensuring that our largest grantmaking process proceeds uninterrupted means that support can flow to work aligned with our strategic portfolios — Building Community, Equitable Education, Healthy Environment and Housing Opportunities — all of which continue to focus on undoing long-standing inequities that are now amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this moment of uncertainty, we are maintaining Meyer’s steadfast commitment to grantmaking. Despite significant volatility in financial markets, we have not reduced our grant budget and we remain committed to staying above the 5 percent payout required of philanthropic foundations.
We prioritized keeping the 2020 Annual Funding Opportunity moving but also offered flexibility, including deadline extensions for organizations requesting a bit more time and even experimenting with a few applicants on accepting proposals they had submitted to other funders. As we continue to adapt our approach to the work to meet our communities where they are at, we will keep listening to and learning from what our grantee partners are experiencing to ensure that our annual funding is responsive to COVID-19 realities. We don’t have it all figured out, but we are trying to meet this moment with flexibility and allow the circumstances to accelerate our learning to embrace more effective and trust based philanthropic practices.
Like many organizations and communities across the state, we are also thinking about how to address immediate needs, significant and growing as they are, while making space to reimagine the better future Oregonians deserve. We know inequities that existed prior to COVID-19 will persist — and gaps will only widen — if we don’t implement community-driven solutions to build new and more just systems. A significant portion of Meyer’s grantmaking budget for the next year is allocated for just this kind of radical reimagining work. We will continue to use our voice in advocacy and communications to lift up solutions.
As we move into the next phase of COVID-19 response, Meyer is committed to coming into community with nonprofit partners who understand systemic inequities better than anyone — to help us identify a strategic path forward. They know and we know that a new normal has always been needed. A flourishing and equitable Oregon for all, no exceptions. We are eager and honored to partner with communities to build the future they have dreamed of and worked for. Now is the moment.