I’m incredibly excited to announce that Helen Wong will join the Meyer team as our new director of grantmaking.
Born and raised in the Seattle area, Helen is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Her identity and experience as a first generation Chinese American woman underpins her passion for equity, reconciliation, and belonging among diverse communities. Helen comes to Meyer from the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery. As a founding member of the nonprofit and its senior director of grant programs, she led the organization’s granting strategy, execution and partnership portfolio in eight countries across the world.
Prior to her role at the Global Fund, she served as a senior policy advisor for Physicians for Human Rights, a co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, and a Foreign Affairs Officer at the U.S. Department of State. Helen has built a career focused on advancing human rights in extremely challenging circumstances.
Helen’s ability to build and inspire strong teams in complex environments will be invaluable as we adopt a new strategic framework and begin the important work of elevating and centering community voice in our grantmaking. Her advocacy, passion and dedication to diverse and marginalized communities is so clearly evident in her experience and background. We are thrilled that she has chosen to bring all of her talents to Meyer.
As director of grantmaking, Helen will oversee Meyer’s program implementation and evolution. She will hold the primary responsibility for translating Meyer’s strategic framework into grantmaking opportunities and manage the resources required to meet our strategic objectives. Helen will build a new program staff structure designed to work in a non-siloed and collaborative way. She will also support the development of new trust-based and participatory funding approaches that advance Meyer’s justice-focused mission.
I am especially looking forward to partnering closely with Helen on Meyer’s strategic direction and advocacy opportunities.
She holds dual bachelor’s degrees in International Relations and Chinese Studies from the College of William & Mary, a Master of Laws in Human Rights from the University of Hong Kong and certifications in executive leadership and nonprofit management from Cornell and Georgetown University, respectively.
In addition to her professional experience in the nonprofit and government sectors, Helen is a trained yoga and empowerment self-defense instructor, a wife and mother to two daughters.
Helen will begin her work at Meyer on June 13.
Helen Wong begins work at Meyer on June 13.
Four years ago, I came to Meyer Memorial Trust to deliver on the mission of a flourishing and equitable Oregon. I leave it now knowing Meyer has a dedicated team ready and excited to deliver on a renewed sense of purpose and a mission worthy of these times. The new mission better reflects what Oregon needs this organization to focus on now: Meyer accelerates racial, social and economic justice for the collective well-being of Oregon’s lands and peoples.
This didn’t happen overnight and I didn’t do it alone. Every step of the way, I was joined, guided and inspired by a deeply committed board and fiercely sharp and passionate staff willing to see the world clearly, reckon with a troubling past, dream of a better future and have the discipline to ask ourselves over and over again: Do our decisions remove barriers or reinforce them? While we looked inward to better live our values, we looked outward to our Oregon communities to show us the way.
A Shift Towards Justice
I entered an organization focused on equity. I leave it focused on justice. This shift is essential. We don’t have to wallow in the past but we ignore it at our peril. We must know and acknowledge our Native histories. We must understand the legacy of white supremacy, colonization and racial exclusion. We must learn from our shared past in order to know what we need to correct from the long-lasting harms and injustices that live on today. We must know on what false promises and faulty premises our systems were built so we can dismantle them and create new ones that deliver on our mission, not make it impossible to achieve.
My life as a Black woman and my experience in academia, government, civil rights and environmental justice advocacy have taught me that power and money are tools. And how they are wielded means everything. When we looked at who we gave grants to and saw that there were few leaders of color on our roster, we knew that meant we were not doing our part to serve all the peoples of Oregon. When we looked and saw that we had no partnerships with tribes whose ancestral lands make up Oregon, we knew that we were not in relationships with the people who we could learn from the most.
Driven by Community, A Sharper Focus on Native-led Efforts
So I committed to making those connections myself, in person. My conversations with tribal communities in all corners of the state helped to lay the groundwork for tangible commitments like adding a dedicated budget line for Native communities in our grantmaking as we continued to infuse funding for Native-focused efforts across all of our programs. But perhaps most critically and among the shared achievements I am most proud of, is the ongoing transformation of Meyer’s culture to reflect a fuller understanding of the interconnected nature of our relationship to Oregon’s land and peoples.
In long-term efforts like the Willamette River Initiative, now Nesika Wilamut, we’ve helped provide the stable infrastructure to shift towards that more evolved mindset. Nesika Wilamut describes itself as a “community-driven network that weaves together people and communities who care about human and ecological well-being in the Willamette River Basin.” I believe passionately in Meyer’s ability to continue iterating, listening and evolving to more fully realize that bolder and more expansive vision of collective well-being that our staff and board now share.
With this wider aperture, and our experience working in and with communities through times of inspiring mobilization and local power-building amid a pandemic, an uprising and a forest on fire, we are now better prepared to see connections across issues, to use our voice to speak to systems of opportunity alongside those of oppression. Meyer is poised to have the impact I imagine Fred Meyer wanted us to have. And we are set up to succeed.
Living our Mission
Words can be powerful, but they’re nothing if not backed up with action. A mission alone is a signal. But a committed staff and board behind a mission are a true force. At Meyer, we take the word “accelerate” seriously. Movement toward supporting community-led and trust-based grantmaking needs to happen faster. And then there’s that word justice. Justice goes beyond building a flourishing and equitable Oregon. It is a commitment to correction. Our commitment to repair and restore.
Meyer is already living our new mission and desire to have deep structural impact. Even before we finalized our future direction, we established Justice Oregon for Black Lives, Meyer’s largest single initiative in our 40-year history. Justice Oregon invests in Black organizations, communities, leadership, families, wisdom and opportunity. We are engaging Oregon’s Black community as the experts on how best to strategically invest in Black success as a way to not only support Black life, but also end a culture of racism that has systemically harmed our lands and peoples since our state’s founding.
By following the lead of communities, Meyer is eager to help cultivate a future where Oregonians root for each other rather than fear each other. “Without community, there is no liberation,” Audre Lorde once wrote, “but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.”
Our Collective Promise
We need to embrace that Oregon is made up of neighbors. From building our headquarters in a historically Black neighborhood, to advancing economic justice with Latino farmworkers who have long been stewards of our agriculture, to learning from the vast knowledge of our tribal neighbors, we are rich in generational wisdom here in Oregon. Tapping it for our future, learning to live well — not only with each other, but for each other — improves everyone’s well-being.
I am leaving Meyer, but will forever remain committed to its new mission. This is my life’s work. They say it is a privilege to plant a seed for a tree whose shade you won’t enjoy, but I believe this seed is sprouting fast and growing strong. I believe Meyer’s justice-focused, community-centered philanthropy will be a beacon for all who want to live in a more just world. It has been an honor to contribute to it and Oregon’s bright future.
Michelle J. DePass at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Meyer Memorial Trust building in 2019. Credit: Fred Joe
Over the summer of 2021, Meyer's equity journey reached a new milestone with the unanimous board approval to use an anti-racist, feminist lens to build an Oregon that works for all. In pursuit of that goal, we are reimagining how we work alongside and support our partners, by desilo-ing our work to support communities, change systems and strengthen movements.
Changing the way Meyer will work has been an exercise in listening and learning . As we move away from our previous model of grantmaking (the Annual Funding Opportunity) to an exciting new direction, we're taking lessons from all we’ve learned in partnership with community through our equity-focused grantmaking and our pivot five years ago, to ensure Meyer grantees continue to be supported throughout this process.
We recognize that the needs of our communities and grantees are ever present and that time and transparency is essential to our work. As such, we have unconditionally extended many of our recent grants beyond their current scope in order to provide funding to our grantees while Meyer develops new models and processes for the future. We know the work of our grantees doesn’t stop and we are committed to supporting our partners, even as we work to find more trust filled ways to partner more deeply into the future.
Earlier this month, Meyer approved $16 million in grants to 208 organizations across the state of Oregon. Nearly two-thirds of that funding is for operating support, because that is where we heard the need was.
Thanks to the wisdom and insight of our grantees, we are also significantly easing reporting requirements. Details may vary, but on the whole, grantees will be relieved of most, if not all, of the reporting requirements that they've had to meet in the past. Meyer will be following up with individual grantee organizations with more specific guidance.
Looking ahead, we will be creating new ways of working this year, by closely partnering and listening to our communities as we collaborate to develop new funding opportunities which will launch in the second half of the year. We will continue to share information as plans emerge, including on this frequently asked questions page.
We deeply appreciate the incredible people and organizations that make up the Meyer grantee community. This new year promises many new opportunities and we are excited to continue working together for a more just Oregon.
Meyer will provide $16M in transition grants as it shifts towards a more trust-based model of grantmaking in 2022.
As chair of Meyer Memorial Trust's board of trustees, I have had the distinct honor of working side by side with Meyer CEO Michelle J. DePass since she came to lead the organization in 2018. We've become more than valued colleagues; we've become close friends and allies in Meyer's work.
So, it is with deep appreciation to Michelle that I share with you her decision to step down as CEO by the end of February 2022. Her impact on Meyer and on the communities and organizations we serve and partner with cannot be overstated. The trustees and I thank Michelle for her vision, her energy, her focus and her leadership toward racial and gender justice in Oregon.
Below is a message Michelle shared with Meyer staff yesterday. We will be sharing more in the new year about Michelle's accomplishments, what it means for Meyer going forward and how the trustees will find the right person to assume the mantle of CEO.
Michelle – thank you, again. You've led us and inspired us brilliantly.
Meyer Memorial Trust
FROM: Michelle J. DePass
TO: Meyer Staff
Dear Meyer family,
When I came to Oregon in 2018 to lead this incredible organization, I had a vision for what we could do together. And as much as I dreamt about where we could go, tapping into each other's support and energy, I am prouder and more grateful than I had imagined I could be.
Over the summer of 2021, Meyer's Board of Trustees – advancing our equity journey – unanimously approved putting racial and gender justice at the center of what we do. We undertook a deep dive into our grantmaking approaches. We developed a strategy that will chart Meyer's course for the years ahead, a trajectory guided by the needs and the wisdom of the communities we serve. I am incredibly excited for us to share more in the new year with our communities about that strategic framework and how it will strengthen our work and transform this place we call home.
In short, the trustees, our executive team and the incredible folks that make up Meyer are a privilege to lead. And while we have weathered the past two years' cavalcade of challenges, we have also done some of the most consequential work in Meyer's nearly 40-year history. Providing funds to urgent needs. Launching just-in-time initiatives while charting a strategic course for the years ahead. Completing our new and green headquarters. Exceeding all expectations on our endowment. All while managing our own lives and the needs of those around us in the midst of a global pandemic and unprecedented social and economic challenges? Nothing short of excellence! I truly cannot overstate how grateful I am to each and every one of you, and to all the Meyer staff I've had the honor of knowing.
Now, as I find myself taking stock of what is needed to move the work forward, I am also thinking about where else I need to show up, lead and care for. And what I know now with total certainty is that my family — my parents, my husband, and my young and growing boys — need me now in a way I can no longer put off.
Therefore, I have decided to step down as CEO of Meyer Memorial Trust by the end of February 2022.
Like any major life decision, it was both extremely difficult and surprisingly clear. I wrestled with it, tried to see another pathway forward, thought about what signals it might send as a woman, as a Black woman, as a CEO. For those of us in the "sandwich generation," finding ourselves juggling care of our parents and our children (and our careers), this is not an unfamiliar conversation. Fair or not, ultimately I understood what I could and couldn't sustain, and where I could and couldn't hand over responsibilities.
I am extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to lead Meyer Memorial Trust to where it is today: a foundation centered in community, rooted in Oregon and focused on racial justice. I am confident that each of you will carry that work forward in ways I cannot wait to cheer on.
I am equally grateful to Janet Hamada, our inimitable and unflinching board chair, for her friendship, leadership and wisdom. And my gratitude extends to the entire board of trustees, who are wholly supportive of my decision. Their commitment to Meyer's next 40 years is beyond reproach.
And lastly, I am grateful to my colleague and friend, Phoebe O'Leary, who has agreed to step in and step up to serve as Interim CEO after I leave. Phoebe, the board and the executive team are already putting in place a transition plan and a pathway to our new CEO in mid-2022. Until then, Phoebe and I will be even more joined at the hip as she prepares to take the helm.
I have plenty of time yet to share with you all my fondest memories and proudest moments. And I am 100 percent confident in the board and the executive team to lead us through this moment, and equally confident in every one of you that your best work is just ahead.
With love and deep gratitude,
A portrait of Michelle J. DePass, CEO of Meyer Memorial Trust. DePass will step down from her position in February 2022.
As I think back to the start of this year, I remember the promise 2021 seemed to hold — that a vaccine would come so we would emerge from the pandemic, and we would use what we learned to build an Oregon that works for all instead of returning to one that only worked for a few. Instead, we lived through another year of the pandemic, first with the Delta variant and now, the looming spectre of Omicron. And though I was thrilled when my two kiddos finally became eligible for the vaccine in November, that joy was tempered by the knowledge of what COVID has underscored: so many — especially BIPOC children and families — continue to be underserved in ways that are vital for their continued health, safety and future success.
Throughout this continually challenging year, Meyer has been working to meet the moment by being responsive and flexible so our grantee partners can continue to do their important work. We have simplified our processes, removed reporting requirements and moved to larger, general operating multi-year commitments. In addition, our staff and board have been working on a strategy process that has allowed us to listen, learn and think deeply about our collective future.
Through this endeavor, we’ve come to recognize that Meyer’s own system of grantmaking must evolve to better meet the needs of Oregonians. While our Annual Funding Opportunity (AFO) has served as Meyer’s open call for proposals since 2015, the 2021 AFO is our last.
Beginning in 2022, Meyer will be working closely with our communities to design a funding process that is more integrated and fundamentally community-centered. It will be a process that better aligns with our new strategic framework: to use an anti-racist feminist lens to strengthen movements, change systems and support communities to build an Oregon that works for all.
From Barriers to Bridges
For those who have been following Meyer’s work over the last few years, this change likely comes as no surprise. As Meyer’s focus on racial justice has grown, so has the recognition that the challenges facing BIPOC Oregonians are not singular or distinct in nature. As our communities named, and Audre Lorde reminds us, “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” In moving towards a new way of organizing ourselves and our approach to this work, we acknowledge that our identities, our challenges and our institutions are complex and intersectional.
In truth, Meyer’s portfolios have already been funding work that strengthens movements, changes systems and supports communities. Here are a just a few examples from this past year’s grant awards:
$200,000/2 year operating support grant to Forward Together, which focuses on uniting communities to win rights, recognition, and resources for all families. They bring a strong intersectional lens to their work building power among BIPOC Oregonians through political education, advocacy, cross-sector alliances and raising the visibility of BIPOC leadership.
$185,000 to The Klamath Tribes, for support of legal work and advocacy to advance the Klamath Tribes’ efforts to protect the endangered C'waam and Koptu fish through better management of the Upper Klamath Lake ecosystem. This work is vitally important, and all the more urgent due to the severe drought this year that led to the lowest water flows that have ever been recorded in the Klamath Basin.
$77,000 to Downtown Languages and Huerto de la Familia to merge with Centro Latino Americano and collectively create a Latinx wellness hub in Lane County that is focused on education and leadership development. They are also participating in civic engagement and small business development. With the proper support, including a recent general operations grant of $200,000, the expanded Centro Latino Americano is bringing together a deeply segregated and marginalized community to have a central home and space of wellness.
Increasing Collaboration and Trust
We are also looking to partner more with our communities, through deeper trust-based practices and more participatory grantmaking. Efforts like the Community Rebuilding Fund and the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Collaborative are examples of areas in which we have found that working in coordination with peer funders and other partners allows us to leverage resources and streamline processes to more rapidly and efficiently respond to emerging crises.
Our Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative also continues to serve as a way for us to learn and build a community-informed grantmaking process that incorporates more trust-based practices into Meyer’s grantmaking process. We’ve been inspired by and continue to draw from the wisdom and power of the Black community in designing a funding process that addresses the needs of Black Oregonians, as expressed by Black Oregonians.
As we close out this year and look to the future
In total, our 2021 AFO has distributed more than $19 million in funding through 124 grants, a significant portion of the 216 grants and $27 million awarded so far this year. A full list of all our grant awards is available here.
As we transition, we make this promise: Meyer grantmaking will continue throughout 2022. We are not pausing or stopping funding next year. We will be connecting, listening, co-creating and sharing with our staff, partners, grantees and larger community as we build towards the future.
Despite the many struggles facing our communities and challenges facing our collective well being, I am excited and energized by our shared trajectory. I want to share my deep gratitude to our internal staff and board, to Public Equity Group and to those in our broader community who have already helped us to get to this point. I hope to deepen our conversation and kinship as we chart this new course together.
Meyer is adapting to better serve Oregonians, with a sharper focus on communities, systems and movements
Meyer recently completed a comprehensive strategic planning process, a deep dive into how we do grantmaking and how we can better center community in all we do. As Meyer Memorial Trust sharpens our focus on racial justice, and on applying an anti-racist, feminist lens to our work, we must strive to better align our purpose and our business operations.
To achieve that stronger alignment, Meyer CEO Michelle J. DePass has promoted Brenda Hodges to the role of Chief Financial Officer. As Meyer's director of finance for the last five years, Brenda has been a trusted advisor to the executive team and Meyer's board of trustees. She has steered the organization's finances through great periods of change, growth, and challenges. Brenda has also led Meyer's independent audit process, and modernized the organization's accounting practices with an emphasis on mission alignment. This new role is an opportunity for Brenda to oversee and elevate the strategic value and impacts of other compliance functions, such as IT and operations.
As we move through operationalization, Meyer's attention will in due course turn to impact: how can we make the most impact in Oregon? And how do we know when we are? That focus on impact merits someone entirely focused on it.
To achieve that goal, DePass has appointed Kaberi Banerjee Murthy to the newly created role of Chief Impact Officer. The Chief Impact Officer’s top priority is to bring a racial justice and intersectional feminist lens to the work which centers community voice and shifts power. Since 2018, Kaberi has led Meyer's programs and strategy teams, while also leading the board and staff through a planning process which just resulted in a new strategic framework. As Meyer's inaugural Chief Impact Officer, Kaberi will oversee all of Meyer’s mission-focused work, specifically the development of its long-term strategy, oversight of grantmaking, programs and advocacy, and the implementation of values-aligned evaluation.
Congratulations, Kaberi and Brenda. Meyer is grateful for your thoughtful leadership.
Kaberi Banerjee Murthy (L), Brenda Hodges (R)
I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve hired Roy Kaufmann as Meyer’s new director of communications.
Roy, who most recently served as Interim Associate Vice President for Communications at Lewis & Clark College, brings to Meyer more than two decades of experience in communications.
An award-winning communications practitioner, Roy’s extensive experience includes managing media relations, issues management and crisis communications. At Lewis & Clark College, Roy served on both the college's emergency management steering committee, its sustainability council, and its diversity, equity and inclusion committee. As the new Director of Communications, he will lead strategic communications, from media relations and web content development, to social media, strategic storytelling, branding, community engagement and employee communications.
Roy brings a wealth of experience in maintaining alignment between an organization’s communications and its core mission and values. His expertise will be integral to Meyer’s work towards an equitable community where all Oregonians can reach their full potential.
Prior to his time at Lewis & Clark, Roy served as speechwriter to Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, and before that, as press secretary and communications director to Portland Mayor Sam Adams. He holds a master’s degree in international relations from the University of San Diego and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of California, Davis. A lifelong fan and student of comedy and improvisation, he fondly recalls his studies at the Second City Theater training school in Los Angeles.
“I’m excited to support Michelle and the entire Meyer team of change agents in accomplishing our mission to work with and invest in organizations, communities, ideas and efforts that contribute to a flourishing and equitable Oregon,” Roy said.
He began work at Meyer in September.
Roy Kaufmann, Meyer's new Director of Communications
The decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan in August and the stunningly quick fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban have led to the evacuation of more than 124,000 Afghan men, women and children from the country.
Though they are often collectively referred to as refugees, the actual legal status of these evacuees varies. About 5,500 are U.S. citizens. Those who worked directly for or with the U.S. government were eligible for Special Immigrant Visas, which offers an established pathway for permanent residency and citizenship in the United States. The Biden administration has also granted a special humanitarian parole created by the Immigration and Nationality Act to express the departure of those whose lives were especially at risk under Taliban rule, including women and girls, human rights workers and journalists.
A majority of Americans across party lines support bringing Afghan refugees into the United States. But years of Trump era anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-immigration policies have eroded the structural systems needed to handle the administrative, legal and other complexities for those seeking asylum.
Oregon is one of 20 states that have offered to assist with the resettlement of the evacuees. But what does it mean to truly welcome and support these new arrivals? What role can Meyer — and philanthropy more broadly — play in ensuring that Oregon’s newest residents are not only allowed to exist in their adoptive home, but are truly included and integrated as valued members of our community?
While humanitarian parole allows individuals to enter and stay in the United States without a visa, it does not connect them to the established welcoming and integration services associated with official refugee status. Without this status, many of those entering the United States are ineligible for financial, food and health care benefits, employment assistance or access to English language classes.
While the Biden administration, Congress and other advocates are working on remedies, Meyer and its funder partners in the Oregon Immigrant and Refugee Collaborative (OIRFC) are working quickly to respond to the immediate need for assistance. Meyer, through the OIRFC has designated $300,000 in grants to the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO).
The following two grants will support efforts to grow legal capacity and resources for incoming Afghan arrivals. One agency offers cultural, religious and linguistic competency as well as a promising recently launched immigration legal department. The other has a fully established legal team ready to handle these complex and urgent cases. These agencies will partner to efficiently and effectively meet the human and legal needs of Afghan arrivals to Oregon.
Immigrant and Refugee Community of Oregon (IRCO)
Grant of $200,000 to prepare to provide services for an influx of refugees from Afghanistan following the fall of the Afghan government to the Taliban.
Established in 1978, IRCO works to promote the integration of refugees, immigrants, and the community at large into a self- sufficient, healthy and inclusive multiethnic society. IRCO’s 500-plus staff is one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse workforces in Oregon, collectively speaking 98 languages and representing 73 ethnicities, with 72% identifying as immigrants or refugees.
Since the Immigrant Legal Services (ILS) program at IRCO was launched two years ago, it has provided legal services to thousands of immigrants and refugees. It is the only nonprofit legal service provider founded and led by immigrant and refugee community members that can provide services in more than 90 languages. ILS has provided refugee/asylee status adjustment, naturalization, disability waivers, work permits, green card renewals and certificates of citizenship. It has supported clients in deportation proceedings, including asylum and cancellation of removal applications; and has linked newcomers to basic needs and other social services.
As the only immigration law office in a community-based organization, IRCO ILS is particularly suited to provide culturally and linguistically specific services to the many refugees from a vast number of immigrant communities that will be making Oregon their home. It has applied to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and is expected to become a designated refugee resettlement agency by January 2022.
Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO)
Grant for $100,000 in preparation to provide culturally and linguistically specific services for an influx of refugees from Afghanistan.
With a mission of bringing together Oregon's diverse faith community to work for the common good, EMO offers direct service programs, educational dialogue and public policy advocacy to both address the immediate needs of Oregon's most vulnerable communities and to provide a values-based platform for the creation of a more just, compassionate, socially aware and engaged society.
EMO’s legal immigration department, SOAR Legal, has served Oregon’s low- and no-income immigrant population since 1992. Every year, it provides culturally competent and trauma-informed immigration related legal representation and education to over 2,700 refugees and immigrants. SOAR Legal plans to create a large-scale training campaign for the broader attorney population to increase their ability to serve clients.
The OIRFC will be meeting with the other resettlement agencies in Oregon — Lutheran Community Services Northwest and Catholic Charities — to discuss anticipated needs as we get more word about Afghan immigrant arrivals. We have been told to expect approximately 180 Afghans over the next few months, with possibly more to come. I am hopeful that Oregonians will do what we can to truly welcome and support each and every one.
During a January 2017 march at Portland International Airport, a woman holds aloft a banner saying "Refugees Welcome." Photo credit: John Rudoff
Today’s conviction of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin brings temporary relief but there is still much work ahead in holding corrupt officers accountable and breaking down white supremacist systems. George Floyd deserved justice. We continue to hold those who knew and loved him in positive thought during this time. In his memory, and the many others who have been victimized and killed before him, we must continue the fight to dismantle all forms of oppression including police brutality, racially-motivated attacks and discriminatory police practices.
Over the past few weeks, as we have waited, yet again, with bated breath for a single verdict, I have reflected on what this means not only for Black and Brown communities, but also for our society as a whole.
We know that the racist violence for which Derek Chauvin was convicted was no anomaly. He was not one bad apple in an otherwise fresh barrel. In the past year alone, the murder of George Floyd was one of many examples of racist violence perpetuated by the police. Police violence on Black and Brown people is directly connected to the police violence against anti-police brutality protesters this past summer, directly connected to the white nationalist insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January and directly connected to the recent wave of anti-Asian hate crimes across the nation. It is all a product of 400 years of oppression and white supremacy. Racism is not a dusty relic, nor is it something unique to policing. It is a fundamental and foundational part of the American experiment—from Portland, Ore. to Minneapolis, Minn.
In July 2020, Meyer formed Justice Oregon for Black Lives, a five-year, $25 million initiative to deepen support for Black-centered organizations, uplift a just system of community well-being and invest in long-term strategic changes. Justice Oregon for Black Lives is the largest initiative in our 38-year history, with an explicit understanding that combating racial injustice will improve the lives of all Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in Oregon. It is vital work, which is why we have already begun investing in such issue areas as 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.
Meyer is committed to standing with the Black community as we continue to call out injustices and demand accountability. As we move forward, we will continue to assess how we show up in ways that challenge racism and bias, to ensure we’re contributing to making society more equitable, fair and peaceful for Black people in Oregon and around the nation.
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.
— Kaberi, Dahnesh, Matt, Jill and Theresa