At the end of June, Meyer Memorial Trust gathered an amazing group of 30 housing advocates, organizers and community leaders in Lincoln City for the Oregon Housing Justice Forum. For most of us, it was the first time in over two years we had been in a room full of people we hadn’t met in person before — and in a way that was the whole point. When Meyer’s Housing team started thinking (back in 2020!) about a multi-day gathering of housing advocates from across the state, our central focus was on providing space and time for people to connect, share what they are working on and identify new allies.
COVID-19 has made creating and sustaining relationships much harder for all of us and we knew people were craving an opportunity to step away from Zoom calls and day-to-day challenges to share visions, plans and hopes for housing justice. The last few years have been full of urgent housing challenges, tireless and smart advocacy, dramatic victories in public policy and new resources for housing needs. The forum was designed to serve as an important occasion for advocates to gather together, take a breath, step back and think about what’s next: how do we all contribute to sustaining and growing broad and resilient movements around equitable housing outcomes? We were particularly looking to center the conversation around the needs and priorities of communities of color and to nurture and promote emerging leaders working with those communities and others that have been historically neglected, marginalized and deprived of the ability to secure suitable housing.
In planning the event, we were fortunate to have the help of three savvy and experienced community members active in the field: Julia Delgado from the Urban League of Portland, Jenny Lee from the Coalition of Communities of Color and Loren Naldoza from the Oregon Housing Alliance. Their perspectives and advice as part of the planning committee helped us shape the event, refining the goals and intent, recruiting and selecting participants and the facilitator, I and actively engaging with other participants during the forum.
With the help of our stellar facilitators from the Luna Jiménez Institute for Social Transformation, the planning committee identified five outcomes that guided our approach to the event:
By centering BIPOC leadership, authentic allyship, relationship building, belonging and racial justice, the Oregon Housing Justice Forum will have:
- Increased our understanding of the historical and current impacts of systemic oppression on housing policies, programs, collaborations and initiatives across sectors that lays a foundation for healing from housing injustices.
- Formed a housing justice network (composed of BIPOC leaders, people who have experienced housing insecurities and committed allies) that is relationship-based, expandable, cross-sector and has the potential to become influential and sustainable.
- Reimagined a housing justice ecosystem that launches a bold, inspiring and just housing future in Oregon.
- Co-created key housing justice initiatives that build on past housing justice victories and learning and are designed and shaped by the insights and experiences of BIPOC communities and/or people who have experienced housing insecurity.
- Felt inspired and more prepared to take bold action that fosters relationships and confidence in backing and centering BIPOC leadership and communities in the housing justice space that moves Oregon closer to a vision of housing justice for all.
We decided to limit the size of the event to a group where everyone could engage in the same conversation and connect meaningfully with each other. That meant that we invited only 35 out of the more than 130 people who applied to participate. That roster of 35 was one of the most diverse and dynamic groups of housing advocates the state has ever seen, with notably only about one-third of attendees coming from Portland Metro. All participants brought deep community connections and more than two-thirds identified as indigenous or people of color. Some were familiar to us and connected with current Meyer partner organizations we know well; some were people we had not known of before the event. Core issues and passions represented ranged across the spectrum of affordable housing advocacy, from determined advocates for the houseless to people focused on increasing minority homeownership; from grassroots organizers to people with strong policy expertise to coalition-builders.
Over two-and-a-half days, this extraordinary group dug into the roots of Oregon’s overlapping housing crises, shared their plans, visions and fears around the work in front of them and bonded with new allies in conversations.
Meyer has a long track record of supporting advocacy and organizing work, particularly in affordable housing, and this event was both a natural culmination of that decade-long engagement and a bridge to our new focus built on centering impacted communities, supporting positive systems change and building movements and grassroots power. And the Forum is just the latest chapter in that critical work: we will be engaging with both participants and a wider circle of voices in the next few months to inform how we can support community-driven agendas for housing justice at both the local and statewide levels.
— Michael Parkhurst
Graphic promoting the Oregon Housing Justice Forum
Meyer recently engaged in a strategic planning process that led to a number of changes in our grantmaking process and the values we hold at the center of our work. As part of this effort, Meyer is working with CEI to design and build a learning and evaluation practice within Meyer. This is the latest in a series of conversations about Meyer’s developing strategy.
Last month, Kaberi Banerjee Murthy, Meyer’s chief impact officer, spoke with Chera Reid, Ph.D., co-executive director of the Center for Evaluation Innovation, about the foundation’s focus on learning and listening, how traditional evaluation in the philanthropic sector has created and maintained an unjust status quo, and ways in which a new approach to measuring impact and gathering feedback can help build equity and shift power. They also talked about Lizzo.
Below is a transcript of their chat, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Dr. Chera Reid, Center for Evaluation Innovation: For over a decade, Meyer has defined itself as an equity-centered organization. You recently named a move from equity to justice as your guiding frame. What does this look like in practice?
Kaberi Banerjee Murthy, Meyer Memorial Trust: Fundamentally, given all the challenges inherent in philanthropy — namely, the ways in which it was created by and still rewards unaccountable systems of great inequality — if we're not actively and deliberately moving toward justice, we're only trying to slightly improve conditions within a fundamentally broken system. We need to be working with partners and communities to reimagine and create a new way of being. Otherwise, we’re rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. To move toward justice, it’s been important for us to think about our active stance — to be anti-racist, to center gender and reproductive justice, to heed BIPOC wisdom — as opposed to believing we can get there via a passive stance. We are working to get into deep alignment internally with our mission and values.
Chera: What are you learning as you practice anti-racist behaviors as a justice-centered organization?
Kaberi: First, I should begin by clarifying that we are still aspiring to become a justice foundation. We know that by stating our intent, we won’t magically become one overnight. It’s a process, for sure. But we’re also very aware of how incrementalism can be the enemy of substantive impact, so we are committed to ensuring something meaningful emerges from every step we take. It will be through our everyday choice points that we are practicing how we live our mission.
And it’s a learning journey in all the things that we will get wrong along the way. We are learning to be transparent and honest about that.
One of the things I was thinking about last month was how Lizzo responded to being called out for using ableist language in her new song “Grrrls.” She was called into the difference between intent and impact. She didn’t use her intent as an excuse, but acknowledged her lack of awareness in using an offensive term. Her apology was not only about the words but also about action and transformation. The artist not only apologized but also re-recorded the track with new lyrics. At one of our recent Impact team meetings at Meyer, we talked about how Lizzo’s mature and thoughtful reaction is an example of modeling learning for accountability.
This accountability can happen at the organizational level but also in ourselves. For instance, I know and acknowledge that I’ve personally made mistakes, specifically by internalizing pressures and moving too fast. With feedback from my co-workers and reflecting on one of Dr. Shawn Ginwright’s Four Pivots, I realized that I was more hustle than flow. As individuals, and as an institution, what we can say is, “We will not get this perfect right away. We will make mistakes.” And what we can offer is a genuine desire to be in a listening and learning stance and not shy away from saying, “We got this wrong. We learned something. We listened to the feedback we received. And here’s how we pivoted or changed as a result.”
One of our key indicators about learning for accountability has to become how we respond to feedback, how we meet moments for transformation. Not being afraid to say “mea culpa” because that allows us to have a growth mindset. It’s not about trying to avoid risk or avoid mistakes; it’s about taking away the standard of perfectionism, which itself can be a symptom of white supremacy culture. We are learning to be brave enough to lean into our mistakes so that we can change.
Chera: I love the Lizzo example and want to go back to the accountability question. What’s on the horizon for how Meyer intends to learn with its partners?
Kaberi: When I started at Meyer, the institution collected a ton of data through the Meyer Outcome Reporting Charts (otherwise known as MORCs), and our team read every single evaluation report. We were taking in so much information, but we didn’t have a system for making collective meaning of the data coming in. So that’s one piece: We are moving from episodic or annual engagement to building our own internal muscle to have more meaningful feedback loops. That’s why we’re creating a new role here at Meyer — Director of Learning — and we’ll be posting a job description and accepting applications for that soon. To all those reading this: If bringing innovative approaches to evaluation is your thing, please consider connecting with us. This position will also have the opportunity to build a team, so that’s an exciting part of all of this, having the resources and capacity to get this right.
And the second piece is about making sure evaluation isn’t just in service to Meyer alone. Instead, we are working toward being able to speak to what we’re collectively learning — nonprofit leaders, our staff, our trustees — about how to partner and seek the change we want. We will be in conversation with community to ensure their feedback and wisdom informs our strategy framework, including our priorities and outcomes. We will say: Here’s where we’ve come to, how does this land, what are our blind spots, what did we miss?
Specifically, we’re using the three questions from the Trust-Based Learning and Evaluation Framework to guide our learning approach. As we “Learn for Accountability,” we’re asking how Meyer can continue building a foundation and practice of trust-based philanthropy, participatory grantmaking and intentional community relationships in alignment with our anti-racist, feminist values. As we “Learn for Decision-Making,” we’re asking how we are supporting our nonprofit partners in meeting their goals and adapting our processes to meet our partners’ changing needs. And as we “Learn for Long-Term Impact,” we’re asking if our funding is moving the meter on racial, social and economic justice for the collective well-being of Oregon’s lands and peoples.
Now, Chera, you’ve actually done this very thing in your previous role at Kresge. So I have a question for you. As you think about the future, what are your thoughts on how evaluation and learning benefits grantees? Both of us have been in philanthropy for a bit, and so much of what I’ve seen was around attribution – what did this one grant “buy” – instead of contribution – how did a grant help support work as part of an ecosystem of partners.
Chera: I really appreciate that question, Kaberi. In terms of evaluation, if you will, I grew up in the attribution world, too. If what you learn necessarily is meant to influence federal spending, which certain program evaluation often was designed to do, it has a place.
The way most foundations operate, that’s just not what you do. In philanthropy, we can think both short and long term about change and how change happens. Much of philanthropy works in place and is across complex systems. Social change is far from linear.
Plus, because philanthropy has this protected tax status, it has a bit of financial accountability, but it is not held to any particular standard when it comes to formalizing how we understand impact or to whom we’re accountable. Philanthropy must be motivated to shift accountability, for instance, the way you’re speaking about Meyer’s motivation being the pursuit of justice. Anti-racist practice is necessary, including in evaluative approach. Then philanthropy can share accountability with its nonprofit partners. Because transforming toward justice is for us all.
Kaberi: Can you say more about that?
Chera: One of the things that's unfortunate is that in the professionalization of evaluation, we’ve created an industry that has many of us, and I say this as a person who does a lot of consulting, inside a business model where many are dependent on selling a product called “evaluation.” At the end of the day, what we all want is learning, which isn’t something to possess. We want our learning to be data rich, robust with context and examples from practice. Learning is a capability that is in all of us. We’ve formalized it in such a way that it can lead us to forget that we actually know something about learning.
What energizes me about CEI’s partnership with Meyer is that we are starting from an intent to embody anti-racist practice. We are thinking together about multiple ways of knowing, [and about] how we will understand Meyer’s contribution to a larger system of change around dimensions of justice. Moving away from possession and toward shared learning is key. We will have more robust evaluative thinking — we will get clearer and learn more — with this approach.
Kaberi: And we will be open and vulnerable about the missteps we make along the way, to go back to our Lizzo example. I’m grateful that philanthropic spaces are in the process of shifting. We can and need to be honest and transparent about our journey.
At Meyer, we’re excited about the new Director of Learning and Evaluation role. It’s a long time coming and will really expand our ability to make good on what we know we need to do to better serve our community.
Chera: Yes, it’s a big job. One thing that I came to see early on in my time as the inaugural director of strategic learning, research and evaluation at The Kresge Foundation is that the job isn’t about possession, about being the holder of learning. It’s more about how we give it away, that is, stewarding so that learning is shared.
I’m thinking about a few of the enduring lessons I learned going through this same process at Kresge:
First, the work is about both learning and unlearning. This is about being curious about the assumptions and mindsets that are in our work and that are invisible until we make them visible. The Equitable Evaluation Framework™ uses the language of orthodoxies, for instance, to help us unsettle often unspoken assumptions that govern our efforts.
The second lesson and enduring anchor is about experts and expertise: We are experts in equal measure. This goes to inviting multiple ways of knowing, and trusting lived experience as a teacher. Together, the Trust-Based Philanthropy project and CEI have begun naming what we see as the emergence of a trust-based approach to learning and evaluation practice — aspects of which you’ve already mentioned, Kaberi.
Third, learning is for everyone. When we bring an equity or justice lens to our work, learning isn’t a “nice to do” but a “must do.” All heads, hearts and hands are on deck. At Kresge, for example, you will see that in 2019, the foundation adopted equity as its sixth value. This move reflects years of learning across the organization, and it exemplifies the kind of openness to be moved that we all must hold as possible.
Kaberi: Thanks, Chera, for all of this. It’s great to be in partnership with CEI around this and move from the ways evaluation has been done in philanthropy in the past to shift into a new way of partnering and learning with community.
An arm extends to a wall of sticky notes with lightbulbs drawn on each of them
Meyer recently engaged in a strategic planning process that led to a number of changes in our grantmaking process and the values we hold at the center of our work. I recently sat down with Kaberi Banerjee Murthy, Meyer’s chief impact officer, to discuss Meyer's evolving strategy, how the community has informed our decision making and funding approach, and what this all means for our nonprofit partners and allies across Oregon.
Roy: How is Meyer changing its approach to grantmaking?
Kaberi: Meyer is making three major shifts to how we practice philanthropy. The first is the shift of our mission, specifically from a focus on equity to a focus on justice. The second is the shift in our grantmaking approach, specifically moving toward trust-based philanthropy and participatory grantmaking. And finally, we’ve shifted to using an explicitly anti-racist, intersectional feminist approach throughout our work.
These shifts are the result of a years-long learning and reimagining process, during which we heard loud and clear from Oregonians that Meyer needs to be in deeper relationship with community and partner differently as we do our work.
Roy: How are these shifts going so far?
Kaberi: I’ve been so humbled and impressed by the hard work and dedication of our staff, nonprofit partners and community members. In my experience, it’s rare for private philanthropy to attempt even one of these substantive shifts, let alone three at once. It’s challenging work, but we’re doing it because we know we need to change in some pretty big ways to deliver on the promises we’ve made to our fellow Oregonians.
Without deliberately shifting the power that comes with Meyer’s resources, platform and prominence from the foundation to our community, we would be impeding justice, rather than accelerating it.
Roy: What do these shifts mean in terms of concrete changes that nonprofit partners will begin to see in the coming months and years?
Kaberi: To me, “trust-based philanthropy,” means embracing an approach to grantmaking that explicitly addresses the inherent power imbalances between funders, nonprofits and communities. It is fundamentally about redistributing power in ways that minimize those power imbalances as much as possible. In concrete terms, that means things like shifting to multi-year, flexible, operating grants; streamlined applications and reporting; and a commitment to building non-extractive funding relationships that are grounded in dignity, mutuality and curiosity.
Roy: Meyer has been explicitly focused on racial justice for several years, but the addition of an “intersectional feminist” framework is new — what can you share about that addition?
Kaberi: It’s no secret that institutional philanthropy was predicated on racist, patriarchal systems of dominance and control. Early philanthropists accumulated much of their wealth through utilization of extractive economies that have created intergenerational harm and have led to the most persistent problems in our society.
If we’re to find antidotes to those harmful ways of being, intersectional feminism will be critical to that unlearning. Angela Davis once said: “When Black women win victories, it is a boost for virtually every segment of society.” In that spirit, one of our guiding questions during planning, as we imagined a multicultural feminist future that works for everyone, was: What would it look and feel like to live in an Oregon in which Black women are thriving?
In addition our belief that intersectional feminism is central to the pursuit of justice, we also know that women, girls, femmes, LGBTQ folks and gender expansive people in Oregon face some of the largest gender-based disparities in the nation. As the Women's Foundation's Count Her In report identified, whether we're looking at rates of violence or child care costs, mental health disparities or wage gaps, gender-based injustice in Oregon harms hundreds of thousands of individuals and families — and our state as a whole.
If our goal is to accelerate racial, social and economic justice in Oregon, we must focus on the intersections of gender, race and class. And with less than 2% of charitable giving nationally going towards gender justice, we believe it is imperitive for Meyer to take an intersectional feminist approach to our work overall and to contribute specifically to this area of social change in our state.
Roy: What was the catalyst for making these big shifts?
Kaberi: For years, there was a growing sense at Meyer that we were making lots of grants that were values-aligned, but hadn’t fully defined what our work was in service to. We felt the need to clarify our vision and deepen our ongoing work to understand what the community is asking of us.
Funding has rarely been informed, let alone determined, by the very communities that foundations say they are committed to serving. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Over Meyer’s four decades of grantmaking, we have tried to break away from these dominant systems in various ways — sometimes we’ve been successful, other times less so.
Through our planning journey, we identified that shifting our mission, strategy, and grantmaking practices would be important changes for bringing clarity to our work. In making these shifts, we are striving to reckon with our power and privilege, centering listening and learning more than dictating and determining, and trusting the communities whose wisdom has long led social justice work.
Roy: When will Meyer begin making funding available through this new framework?
Kaberi: We have already awarded more than $28 million this year between prior commitments and transition grants, and we look forward to awarding the rest under our new framework. Most of this year’s remaining funds will be allocated through participatory means, including funds dedicated to Justice Oregon for Black Lives.
Over the next several months, we will convene advisory tables where community members will be invited to help co-create our participatory grantmaking process and inform Meyer’s strategic approach more broadly. This year we are listening, deepening relationships and trying some things out as we plan for more robust implementation of our framework next year and beyond. I’m looking forward to seeing what unfolds and how we can continue to build on it in the years to come.
A graphic illustration from Meyer's Learning Week in 2020, an important milestone on the journey towards a new strategic framework and approach to grantmaking. Credit: Fred Joe
I am angry and frustrated. But am I surprised? Not really. As a woman, as a mother of two teenage daughters, as a person paying attention, as a human being living in this nation, it’s hard to be surprised by much anymore. The Supreme Court's appalling draft majority opinion (leaked, but confirmed) to overturn decades of legal precedent and "settled law" is a symptom of a society that has never taken the ever-present reality of structural sexism or the fight for gender justice seriously enough. That is plain to see. From reproductive rights to wage gaps, the injustice is glaring. It cannot continue.
Abortion rights are human rights. Reproductive rights are a bellwether of democracy. And when we're talking about abortion rights, in this state and in this country, we're talking about racial and economic justice too. Because the truth is that these regressive attacks disproportionately impact Black and Brown people, and people who are living in poverty. If a human being does not have sovereignty over their own body, what other rights can be guaranteed?
While Justice Samuel Alito's draft opinion focuses its attack on abortion rights, the thinking behind it makes it clear that the driving force of his argument is about control: controlling the bodies and lives of those who are the most vulnerable and the least able to access or afford reproductive care, including trans people.
After all, gender justice is not just a women's issue. It is a human rights issue. When we push Oregon closer to real gender justice, we are pushing closer to justice and freedom for all Oregonians. Thankfully, societies are malleable. They can be changed when enough people see the intersections between their own lives and the lives of neighbors, friends and strangers — at the intersections of identities and values where people actually live.
Last year, Meyer's trustees approved purposefully practicing philanthropy through an anti-racist and feminist perspective. And earlier this year, we approved a new mission to guide Meyer's future, one focused on accelerating racial, social and economic justice for the collective well-being of Oregon's lands and peoples. Our commitment to applying an intersectional feminist perspective and centering community wisdom will form our gender justice work, ensuring our grants and voice are meeting the moment.
Anytime I find myself angry and frustrated, I become more dedicated to fighting injustice. I hope you're with me. The fight will be hard, but it has to be worth it. For all our sakes.
Demonstrators at a pro-choice rally in Washington D.C.
In February, the newly renamed Oregon Collective Summit was attended by more than 125 educators and pre-service teachers from around the state. With COVID safety in mind, educators came together in a virtual space for the second year in a row. This was in contrast to the experience of many who have been working in school buildings since fall under extremely stressful conditions, including a surge in the Omicron variant that exacerbated an already severe shortage of teaching and support staff.
Understanding that context meant that the OCS educator-led planning committee prioritized healing as a primary theme of this year’s event, bringing Dr. Dena Simmons to share her experience and wisdom with attendees. Simmons is the founder of LiberatED, a collective focused on developing school-based resources at the intersection of social and emotional learning, racial justice and healing. With an understanding of the isolation experienced by many of Oregon’s teachers of color, in her remarks, Simmons emphasized, “You are not alone.”
Perhaps the most powerful evidence of that reassurance came in the form of a panel discussion with current and past Oregon teachers of the year. BIPOC educators Ethelyn Tumalad (2022) , Nicole Butler-Hooten (2021) , Mercedes Muñoz (2020) , Keri Pilgrim (2019) and Gloria Pereyra-Robertson (2017) shared their experiences and honest reflections in a conversation moderated by Gerardo Muñoz, Colorado’s 2021 teacher of the year.
As one teacher confessed to feeling she had, “no mentors, no pathways” to help her navigate through her experience as one of the only teachers of color at her school, others offered hope and perspective.
“We are seeing a social justice shift…[but] I recall not knowing how much of my Indigenous self to bring to the classroom. This work can be lonely,” one educator empathized.
Another shared how exhausted they felt from endlessly “code switching” through multiple contextual environments, “from classroom to parent meeting to department, staff and district [professional development].”
When the panel was asked what advice they had to offer their younger selves, the wisdom shared was both reflective and practical. Early career and pre-service teachers were listening closely, as those with more experience nodded in agreement.
“Teaching is a journey. Pace yourself. I am a totally different person and educator than when I started. Do not feel you need to do it all today.”
“Find the shoes that are comfortable for you.”
“We serve out of our identity. [DEI-related work at schools] is largely unpaid labor. It’s ok to say no.”
“Remember to make time for your family.”
“Eat your lunch. Go to the restroom. Drink your water.”
“Bring truth to your passion.”
As one attendee shared, "The community coming together was just so powerful. To hear the voices of BIPOC educators was incredibly inspiring.”
In all, the event featured 24 speakers and six breakout sessions that covered a range of content — from elevating student voice and leadership, to teaching climate change in the context of Indigenous history. Educators also learned about ongoing efforts to build and strengthen a statewide coalition for educators of color in Oregon.
Diarese George, a founder and executive director of the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance shared the journey that he and others have taken to leverage the connection and support for and by educators of color into a movement that influences educational policy and decision making.
George notes that nationally, “We are losing more teachers of color than we are gaining.” This, he said, means that “Retention is our biggest opportunity.”
Speaker and director of Oregon’s Educator Advancement Council (EAC), Kimberly Matier shared that the majority of the Regional Educator Networks funded by the EAC are focused on retaining the diversity within our education workforce. These efforts, in conjunction with the grow your own (GYO) teacher pathway programs also funded through the EAC, are creating a new eco-system of support for diverse educators. Meyer has joined these efforts and granted over $1 million to increase and retain diverse educators in Oregon. In addition, our Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative includes education as one of its five community-identified priorities, with specific goals to increase the number of Black educators and administrators by 2025 and to improve Black student academic, social and emotional outcomes.
Meyer is so honored to help connect and support educators of color as we collectively work to advance equitable education efforts and outcomes. As a foundation whose mission centers racial and social justice, Meyer believes the importance of diverse educators reflecting Oregon’s diverse student populations cannot be overstated.
Oregon Collective Summit Agenda 2022 (654.06 KB)
To see speaker bios, click here and select the ‘speaker’ tab.
A word cloud created by attendees of the 2022 Oregon Collective Summit
We’ve noticed that recent news coverage on the Portland Clean Energy Fund (PCEF) has led to a few public calls for a pause in its work. Some of those calls have cited accountability and oversight issues raised in a recent city audit of the program released in March.
As a longtime funder of many of the organizations that came together to create PCEF, we want to share our perspective on why we feel that’s the wrong call.
For years, Meyer Memorial Trust has been investing in the community based organizations that came together to create PCEF, which 65% of Portland voters approved in 2018. Meyer has also supported the majority of PCEF grantees to date. Why? Because these organizations have a track record of designing and implementing effective solutions by and for their communities to address myriad challenges on issues like housing, energy, transportation, pollution reduction and more. These are the leaders we need to follow in the face of the climate crisis.
They believe, as we do, that the climate emergency we face requires bold and rapid action that is grounded in the wisdom and expertise of communities on the frontlines. Those who are experiencing the greatest impacts from climate change — including wildfire, drought, heat waves, hurricanes and floods — are best positioned to create appropriate solutions. An understanding of the interwoven nature of our climate challenges with issues like access to safe and affordable housing, quality food and living-wage jobs is a particularly strong aspect of an innovative program like PCEF.
In designing the fund, organizations like Coalition of Communities of Color, Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, Verde, Native American Youth and Family Center, OPAL Environmental Justice and the NAACP Portland Branch wanted to do more than simply fund energy efficiency, clean energy retrofits and green infrastructure. They also wanted to invest in the capacity of frontline communities to lead and execute solutions. The innovations baked into PCEF are designed to create new possibilities for those who have historically benefited the least from government programs, in particular those from communities of color and low-wealth communities.
While we know this makes intuitive sense to most, we fear that a limited understanding of accountability will also limit our collective ability to achieve broader, deeper and more lasting impact — on climate and many other important issues.
In the case of PCEF, a fuller understanding of accountability must acknowledge and correct how our own governance systems have their own biases. Those biases have resulted in disparate benefits to white communities at the expense of communities of color. The recent city audit of PCEF highlighted the ways in which it is walking the fine line between the risks required of those on the cutting edge of change and the scrutiny that comes with the use of public funding. In our view, that is the very work that is needed.
Audits are meant to identify actions for correction and improvement. It’s no surprise that in standing up a new and innovative program like PCEF, this first audit has identified areas for improvement. However, the last thing that we should do in the face of the climate emergency is pause this program. Further, with large amounts of federal funding being allocated toward rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine ways of investing not only in infrastructure, but in the resiliency of our communities themselves. With a strong PCEF in place, Portland’s frontline communities will be positioned to bring their leadership, vision and capacity to leverage this tremendous investment.
The intertwined crises of climate change and injustice require rapid and intentional adaptation. PCEF is a model for how to do just that. Portlanders overwhelmingly saw the promise of PCEF, trusting the wisdom of communities most impacted by the climate crisis, when they voted for it. Pausing now would be yet another breach of trust with communities who’ve endured a legacy of broken promises. It would stall important progress on one of the most ambitious and innovative community-led efforts to address our climate emergency in Oregon and the nation.
— Mary Rose & Jill
A coalition of community based organizations that have come together to build PCEF.
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 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
As Thanksgiving approaches, many Oregonians are looking forward to gathering in celebration with their loved ones. But for many Indigenous people, the holiday is a painful reminder of the slaughter and oppression of their ancestors and the lasting legacy of colonialism and white supremacy in the United States. In particular, my heart and thoughts are with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) and their families in Oregon and beyond.
With the recent disappearances of Rena Mendenhall, Kennedie Hernandez and Lyssabelle Balinger, it’s clear we need to do more to act on this long standing epidemic and acknowledge the colonial roots that perpetuate it. While Oregon is one of only nine states that has brought legislative attention to this issue, progress has been slow and the work remains underfunded.
In 2019, Rep. Tawna Sanchez (Shoshone-Bannock/Ute/Carrizo) wrote and was instrumental in passing House Bill 2625 which called for a study to identify the scope of the MMIWP crisis in Oregon. The bill passed unanimously and the Oregon State Police (OSP) committed to leading a task force focused on the issue, albeit with no additional funding. That same year, the U.S. Department of Justice launched the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative and Cedar Wilke Gillette (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara; Turtle Mountain Chippewa descendant) was appointed Oregon’s first Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Coordinator. This was followed by a statewide listening tour and the release of OSP’s Report on Missing and Murdered Native American Women, detailing some of the barriers to reporting and investigating missing Native American women and people, and providing recommendations for continuing action.
These are vitally important first steps for Oregon, but they’re just the beginning of the deeper work we must do to address MMIWP in our state. The pandemic limitations on gatherings shortened the Listening and Understanding Tour and a lack of additional funding limited the OSP report’s methodology. Oregon can and must do more.
In her report on the issue, Portland State University graduate Michaela Madrid (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) made a number of recommendations which call for greater inclusion of Indigenous MMIWP survivors, family members, scholars and community leaders to address this epidemic. She calls for the hiring of Native American researchers and the addition of a Tribal relations director within the Oregon State Police department. Meyer believes implementing these recommendations would provide a more meaningful resource for decision-makers, funders and Oregon’s Inidigenous communities.
Here at Meyer, we are committed to advocating for not only greater awareness, but more crucially action, including additional funding and increased consultation and engagement of Oregon’s Indigenous communities most impacted by the MMIWP crisis. Our current efforts are focused on directly supporting individuals and families in need of immediate support during their time of crisis, including those involved in searches for missing relatives, after care for loved ones found and, unfortunately, funeral expenses when needed. Earlier this month, Meyer provided a grant to the Na’ah Illahee Fund (NIF), an Indigenous women-led organization dedicated to the ongoing regeneration of Indigenous communities. Following the recommendations of their community advisory council, NIF will distribute grants to those most impacted by the MMIWP crisis.
The MMIWP crisis is only one example of the destructive living legacies of racism, slavery and colonization. Public agencies and private funders must work together, following the lead of our tribal and urban Native communities to address historic and current harms. A flourishing and equitable future for all Oregonians is intrinsically tied to the well-being and prosperity of our state’s Indigenous communities.
The following are the names of MMIWP in Oregon. I hope you will keep them and their families in your hearts as you reconnect with yours this holiday season.
Lisa Pearl Briseno, Mavis Kirk-Greeley, Mavis Josephine McKay, Heather Leann Cameron, Avery Chester Charles, Jerome Clements Charles, Shaydin Jones-Hoisington, Leona Sharon Kinsey, Roger Jacob LeMieux, Sennia Pacheco, Zachary Silatqutaq Bashir Porter, Tryone Beau Robinson, Tina Vel Spino, Gunner Bailey, Jonathan Thomas Gilbert, Gregory Scott Peters, Leslie Shippentower, Selena Shippentower, Sophia Rosenda Strong, Lynette Watchman, Melissa Wilson, Rena Mendenhall, Kennedie Hernandez, Lyssabelle Ballinger and those still unknown and unnamed.
A flyer with details on Rena Mendenhall, a missing teen from Roseburg, Oregon. missingkids.org