It is with mixed emotions that I announce the departure of D’Artagnan Caliman, director of the Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative. His last day at Meyer will be February 1.
D’Artagnan joined us in 2020 as the director of Justice Oregon for Black Lives, Meyer’s largest single initiative in history. We are incredibly grateful for his efforts to connect and deepen Meyer’s relationships in the community, his leadership in expanding participatory processes in our grantmaking and for all he has done to ensure that Black-led and Black-serving organizations in Oregon are empowered and resourced to do their vital work. With his departure, we lose one of Meyer’s most authentic voices; a colleague who took the work seriously, but never himself.
Under his leadership, Meyer has distributed nearly $9 million to dozens of organizations through Justice Oregon and brought a significant number of first-time awardees to the mix. A sixth-generation Oregonian, D’Artagnan’s lived experience in the historically Black neighborhoods of Portland have helped to inform his efforts and approach, including the early and important work of convening dozens of community leaders to develop the initiative’s main funding priorities. In addition, all grants made through the initiative have benefited from community input and review. D’Artagnan’s leadership has ensured that Justice Oregon is truly an initiative by and for the Black community.
We wish D’Artagnan all the best as he takes a well-deserved moment to breathe and decide on what his next chapter will look like.
I also want to assure our grantees and partners that Meyer remains committed to Justice Oregon. As we enter its third year, we are excited to continue funding excellent work and sharing more about our learnings through the initiative.
Meyer Memorial Trust is announcing today an indefinite pause of our engagement on Twitter due to growing concerns about safety and security on the platform. As an organization dedicated to advancing justice, we cannot continue to engage in a space where hate speech and misinformation are allowed to run rampant and unchecked. Yesterday’s dissolution of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, and other decisions that loosen content moderation standards and reinstate problematic accounts, make our continued participation untenable.
As the staff member who develops Meyer’s social media content, I know that no platform is perfect. Cyber hate and misinformation have become par for the course in today’s digital landscape and efforts to bolster democratized public discourse and information sharing too often contend with harmful agents for visibility.
My colleagues and I also understand that many of Meyer’s grantees, community partners and peers depend upon Twitter to share stories, spread awareness and fundraise. As a private funder, we recognize it is a privilege to even consider stepping away.
As someone who came of age during the early days of online social interaction, I still believe in the power of social media to connect people in ways that transcend time and space. The digital world is a tool for building community among diverse audiences that could rarely, if ever, exist on word of mouth alone. The ocean of possibilities within social media connectivity have the potential to make waves in transformative change at scale. As a society, we have already witnessed what can be achieved through the power of the collective in the era of virality.
But we cannot rely on a platform that weaponizes a false notion of free speech to abuse the very communities we support. The danger associated with the onslaught of harmful rhetoric and misinformation continues to mount and runs counter to Meyer's mission to accelerate racial, social and economic justice.
While building community may be at the heart of social media, it cannot act as a proxy for deepening relationships. Content is not a substitute for conversation. Purposeful communication requires an honest and transparent dialogue in spaces that respect individual differences and honor personal safety — online or IRL.
What to Expect, What’s Next
The decision to pause Twitter engagement indefinitely will give us time and space to reexamine our approach to promoting healthy conversation within the virtual landscape. We will continue to monitor the platform’s efforts toward moderating hate speech and countering misinformation to determine if and/or when it is safe to return. Our team is also investigating the viability of increasingly popular alternatives like Mastodon.
Meyer will continue to highlight the impact of our grantees and spread ideas worth sharing on LinkedIn, Instagram and Facebook. We have ended promotion of staff Twitter accounts on our website, but continue to share LinkedIn account information for staffers who engage on that platform. Decisions made by staff about their own personal Twitter accounts and non-Meyer related content are their own.
A Continuing Conversation
We hope to continue listening to and talking with you as we work towards a better future as thoughtful communicators. In that spirit, we’re still advocating for and with communities throughout Oregon and value your partnership and engagement. Want to share your thoughts, have a healthy debate on the future of social media or just pop in to say, hi? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me at taryn [at] mmt.org.
For those who are also grappling with how best to respond to the moment, here are some practical resources that may be useful:
Mark your calendars! Our grant operations team is excited to share that on March 1, 2023 Meyer will launch GivingData, a new grants management software and grantee portal.
Our current software, GrantIs, will be taken offline on February 23, 2023.
Why the change?
This transition has been in the works since May 2021 when we formally began our search for a grants management software that would better support Meyer’s community-informed grantmaking framework. Feedback from our grantee partners and staff also prompted us to look for a new system with a more user-friendly interface. GivingData will allow us to collaborate in real time, improve the flow of applications and reports, and keep our grantmaking data in one place. We are especially excited for the external reviewer portal, which is a feature we had on our wish list. We look forward to piloting this function with some future grant cycles.
For Current Grantees
We will be reaching out to existing grantee partners in the coming months with more details on how to navigate the new grantee portal. One substantial change from our current system is that all grantees will need to create and activate a new account for an individual user, rather than on behalf of an organization. Reports that are due after March 1, 2023 will be submitted through GivingData.
For New Applicants
If you expect to apply for a grant from Meyer in 2023, we recommend that you wait to register until our new software is in place.
When Will Meyer Begin Accepting Grant Applications? What happened to the Annual Funding Opportunity?
Meyer is still working out the details of our new grantmaking structure, so we do not yet have specific information to share on current funding opportunities for 2023 and beyond. The Annual Funding Opportunity was retired as Meyer’s main vehicle for grantmaking in 2021.
We’ll be posting quick guides, FAQs and other helpful resources on our website in the coming months to support a smooth transition. We look forward to working and learning with grantee partners in this new grants management software and thank everyone in advance for their patience and support as we complete this transition.
When I joined Meyer four years ago, I did so with the unwavering belief that following the lead of BIPOC communities was key to realizing our shared vision of an equitable Oregon that works for all. I still carry that vision and that dream in my heart, but will not be continuing on this journey as I leave Meyer in October.
I am filled with gratitude for the opportunity to champion and partner with you on so much of the excellent work that is happening now. Deepening our strategy, shifting power, implementing trust-based practices and creating a culture of learning is work that is ongoing. They are efforts that I have worked hard to catalyze and grow. I know they will continue long beyond my tenure here.
The work we have done to move our commitment from equity towards justice and to center intersectional BIPOC wisdom fills me with pride.
In my time here, we were able to increase the grantmaking authority of our CEO and to include community members into grantmaking recommendations. Meyer’s annual grantmaking has increased from $35 million to $45 million. But more importantly, the percentage of general operating grants has grown from 12% to 45% and the percentage of grants supporting BIPOC, immigrants, LGBTQIA+ and people with disabilities increased from 59% to 82%.
Following our community’s lead has allowed us to desilo our work and address root causes — to show up for reproductive justice and other pressing needs in ways that our portfolio structure did not previously allow. I also am grateful for the opportunity to have dreamed and created Justice Oregon for Black Lives, responded to anti-Asian hate and moved resources equitably during both the COVID pandemic and the wildfires.
With our staff and partners, I strove to create a learning arc for our strategy work that allowed us to learn from social justice community members and national leaders as we pushed ourselves to our growing edge. I’ve learned so much from our community, but one lesson resonates particularly deeply: to balance our sense of urgency with the need to move at the speed of trust.
I believe that I am leaving Meyer in a stronger place to be in real service to the community by centering intersectional BIPOC wisdom and making a bold commitment to justice. Meyer has a new CEO at the helm, a dynamic new director of grantmaking in place with a director of learning soon to follow, and an engaged program staff. I look forward to the next chapter and remain, as always, a champion for justice.
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.
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.
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.
Oregon Business magazine profiled Meyer's president and CEO, Michelle J. DePass, in a cover story in its April 2020 edition.
Writer S. Renee Mitchell tells the tale of Meyer's 3rd CEO:
A little less than two years ago, DePass brought her legacy as an unapologetic, social justice activist and agitator to her role as the third president and chief executive officer of Meyer Memorial Trust, one of the state’s oldest and largest charitable foundations.
She was hired over 140 applicants, after a six-month national search. And she is the first woman in that position, the first Black person, and the first to bring three decades of nonprofit, academic, environmental and government experience to the role.