The brilliant youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman declared these words today from the U.S. Capitol, continuing, “Somehow we do it. Somehow we weathered and witnessed a nation that isn't broken but simply unfinished.”
As we usher in a new administration today, I am sitting with the dualities of this moment. We are at once grateful for new (and historic!) leadership and the policy opportunities that give shape to so much of our work, and aware that while hands of leadership have changed, the inequities that our public systems are designed to produce and uphold have not.
The white nationalist insurrections we have seen at our capitals these past few weeks, both in D.C. and in Salem, demonstrate not only the great dangers facing our democracy, but also the threats and realities of violence that impact our work and our communities. We know that what happened January 6 at the U.S. Capitol, and what we’ve seen in Salem and at statehouses across the country, represents not just an inevitable consequence of the past four years, but the past four hundred years of white supremacist violence in our society. This is no anomaly or aberration. The ongoing suppression of full representative democracy is a recurring refrain of our American history. We must reckon with this reality if we ever hope to change it.
Part of our shared work at Meyer is to strengthen and sustain the grassroots power needed to do just that. The communities we partner with have the vision, experience and solutions needed to create a truly equitable Oregon. We know that this is hard work and that these are hard times.
And those continuing to do this crucial work here in Oregon are not alone.
As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, less than two miles down the National Mall from the U.S. Capitol, “We cannot walk alone, and as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."
We at Meyer are right here beside our grantees and allies. And we will not turn back. We will continue to push forward into this new chapter for our communities, and for an equitable Oregon. And we know, because of the power, the passion and the unyielding, unapologetic persistence of our partners, the dawn is ours. And our work together will not stop until we are finished.
The beginning of this new year is a time to reflect, but also — more importantly — a time to act.
As we pause today to honor the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., we must also take a moment to think — and be real — about the dreams we have for our shared nation. Dr. King once wrote, "Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle."
Although it’s taken our country more than 230 years to elect its first Black, South Asian and woman vice president and the state of Georgia its first Black and Jewish senators — we did it. This is a historic moment. Not because identity and representation are qualifiers for success, quite far from it, but because they show our nation that change is indeed possible, even for America.
James Baldwin famously wrote, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
As a nation, we can't begin to dream about desegregating our education and housing systems or advancing environmental justice or reimagining safety and our criminal legal system, without first facing hard truths about racism and white supremacy that have taken root within our democratic institutions. Only then can the hope and joy that I know we all dream about in our shared future be actualized.
It is written on the Statue of Liberty that America is a home for exiles. It doesn't take us long to realize that America has long been the welcoming, safe and free home of white exiles from Europe, a home that has not evinced the same kind of maternal care and concern for Black people stolen from their homelands and forced into transatlantic slavery. It is no wonder that in one of their sorrow songs, Black folks could sing out, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child."
What great estrangement and sense of rejection to cause a people to emerge with such a metaphor as they looked over their lives.
Nearly 60 years ago in Oregon, Dr. King came to Portland to advocate for desegregation. In the morning, he spoke at a Civil War centennial event at Portland State College, now PSU; in the afternoon, he delivered a speech at Lewis & Clark College. Then he met with community members at the home of Urban League President E. Shelly Hill, attended a gathering of Black faith leaders at the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church parsonage and closed the evening with a speech entitled "Facing the Challenge of a New Age," before 3,500 people at the old Civic Auditorium.
Dr. King’s speech at Lewis & Clark, which he called "The Future of Integration," declared, “We have come a long way toward making integration a reality, but we still have a long way to go," adding, “If democracy is to live, segregation must die. Segregation is a cancer in the body of democracy that must be removed if the health of the nation is to survive.”
Swap out racial injustice for segregation and Dr. King’s words are just as relevant today as they have been for generations.
We live in a participatory democracy. To upend centuries old systems of white supremacy takes collective, multi-faceted, long-game work and we don’t have to go in alone. I came to Oregon because equity is my struggle, that principle for which I agitate. This beautiful state, with a deeply complex and contradictory history, was created with an explicit purpose of racial and Indigenous exclusion. It still needs agitation.
For Meyer Memorial Trust, equity — which in essence is agitation — is at the heart of everything we do. Last year, we leapt forward to be more explicit about acknowledging that racial equity is central to our mission of a flourishing and equitable Oregon. We also created Justice Oregon for Black Lives, a five-year, $25 million initiative aimed at making strategic investments in the lives of Black Oregonians and hired its first director, D’Artagnan Caliman.
As a philanthropic institution, we understand that our nation has taken countless positive steps to actualize racial justice and racial equity. But over and over again, we trip and fall backward — by way of white supremacy, anti-Black racism and prejudice in all its forms.
Agitation is how we reconcile the distance between where we are now and living our ideals of equity.
In this moment, when despair threatens each day, I reflect and draw inspiration from Dr. King’s famous “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech at New York’s Riverside Church, in which he declared that “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values,” adding later that “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism and militarism.”
Many of us that have come through the public education system know very little about the nine federally recognized Tribal nations who have existed since time immemorial in this place we now call Oregon. It’s no coincidence: The invisibility of Native people is intentional and systematized. We’ve also been fed a steady diet of biased stereotypes and indoctrinated to colonialism, which allows us to overlook how the control and exploitation of Indigenous lands impact how we relate to one another and the natural world.
Unlearning these biases and dismantling colonial systems are critical if we are to move forward in building a just, multicultural, democratic state where all people can thrive.
Meyer and other organizations will never have the formal, government-to-government relationship that federal and state jurisdictions are required to forge with Tribal nations. For us to have a productive, voluntary relationship with Native communities, then, we need first to challenge ourselves to build a solid foundation for partnership. One that seeks authentic and deliberate relationship-building, cross-cultural learning, and an understanding of Tribal history, governance and current Tribal community priorities. Only then can we be ready for productive partnership.
Meyer staff and trustees have taken this challenge to heart. We worked to develop a base understanding of Native American sovereignty, to understand that Tribes are the original stewards of the land and waters and how rich traditional knowledge can inform our collective practices. We’ve invested time to meet with each of the Native nations in our state and listen to their unique histories, customs and wisdom as well as their current priorities and how we can partner with them. And we’ve started to decolonize our language and processes. Indigenous staff members at Meyer shape the culture of the organization, provide leadership around relationship-building with Tribes and remind us of the areas where more learning is needed.
One important partner in Meyer’s journey is the Institute for Tribal Governance (ITG) at Portland State University, which has helped us acquire knowledge of history as well as current Indigenous world views, Tribal politics and tribal community priorities. After two program directors (Jill and Theresa) participated in the yearlong Professional Certificate in Tribal Relations program at the ITG, we came away enthusiastic that other organizations could benefit from cross-cultural learning and intentional relationship-building.
In early December, Meyer is experimenting with ITG to bring a Tribal Relations workshop to a group of Meyer grantees in the Housing Opportunities and Healthy Environment portfolios whose work connects with Tribes or serves Indigenous people. Over two half-day sessions, the group will receive a condensed version of Tribal history and sovereignty. It is not nearly enough time for deep understanding, but it will serve as a springboard for more learning and create connections for nonprofits to figure out together how to build a strong foundation and show up as better partners with Tribes.
If the experiment is successful, we can help folks begin to move away from transaction-focused relationships and form relationships based on Indigenous understandings of reciprocity and kinship with humans, other organisms and living systems. Together, we must learn from and honor our past, include all voices at the table in our present, and build the foundation for a thriving and inclusive future.
Interested in learning more about building a foundation for partnership and decolonizing your workplace? Here are some resources for more learning:
This summer, Meyer Memorial Trust announced its largest initiative to date: $25 million to support Justice Oregon for Black Lives. With this new commitment, we seek to make sweeping changes to the systems that perpetuate racial inequity in Oregon. This isn’t the first time Meyer has rallied behind a single issue — and it won’t be the last. Thanks in part to one of its initiative predecessors, the Willamette River Initiative, we know that long-term investment in a focused area can have a deep and lasting impact.
The Willamette River Initiative launched in 2008 with the goal of achieving a healthier river by better aligning the efforts of the nonprofits, agencies and researchers focused on river health. It sought to build a strong foundation for future river health work. And, starting in 2015, it worked to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the watershed conservation field in the Willamette River Basin.
During the WRI, the pace and scale of habitat restoration increased mightily, new regional partnerships and networks took root, and cohorts of the initiative’s mostly white, mainstream environmental grantees began to embrace the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion — first through immersive learning, then through internal organizational change. At the WRI's biennial conference, Within Our Reach, you could look around the room and feel a sense of community. We suspected these were the inklings of change. Now, more than a decade and $20 million in Meyer grants later, we have the data to back it up. An external evaluation, completed by the Portland-based firm Dialogues In Action, tells us definitively: The WRI made a real and durable impact on our ability to achieve a healthier Willamette River system.
The evaluation also points to a key ingredient that made this impact possible: collaboration.
We’re lucky in Oregon to have the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, a state agency devoted to improving the ecological health of our lands and waters. OWEB was Meyer’s core partner from the start. By joining together public and private funds, we were able to leverage enough support to ramp up restoration in seven major tributaries of the Willamette River and along its main channel. At the time, the field lacked the capacity to take on large-scale, long-term projects in the river’s floodplain, and little restoration had taken place there. But decades of research told us this was an area of high priority if we wanted to make big strides in river health. Meyer’s flexible capacity funding gave organizations the ability to think strategically over the long term and build trust with riverside landowners in the hopes the landowners would partner with organizations to improve habitat on their lands.
Combined with project dollars from OWEB and later from the federal Bonneville Power Administration, Meyer’s funding unlocked close to 30 large-scale projects on the mainstem Willamette River. Many of these projects are in places you can visit today, like Willamette Mission State Park in Keizer and Minto-Brown Island Park in downtown Salem. This is on top of the over 900 landowners working with watershed councils in the tributaries, compared with 83 in 2010 — an exponential increase made possible by Meyer’s partnership with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation. The BEF brought its innovative Model Watershed Program to the Willamette. Along with restoration expertise, the BEF supported collaborative efforts across the basin by filling in the gaps that individual organizations had a hard time covering on their own, such as bulk ordering plants and seeking funding. The collective impact of funders, nonprofits, government agencies, scientists and community members working in a coordinated way was integral to the WRI’s success.
Forests take decades to grow back, but we can take comfort in knowing that nature is resilient if given a chance. Even in young forests planted during the WRI, farmers and ecologists alike are seeing a vibrant new buzz of birds and insects, the first signs of a recovering ecosystem. In one site, Wapato Cove, a relentless invasive weed has been greatly decreased and wapato, an important Tribal First Food, has taken off in its place. I’m eager to watch as the ecological successes of the WRI continue to develop in the coming years.
For Meyer, building community is as important as grantmaking. The WRI exemplified this. The initiative set a tone of network-weaving by hosting events like Within Our Reach and serving as a basin-wide “matchmaker” to help seed new projects and partnerships. Organizations met the moment. Across the basin, we’ve seen people step into a deeper level of partnership than ever before. These new collaboratives are here to stay; they have shared staff, formal partnership agreements and, in one case, a new office building that serves as a nonprofit hub. The evaluation tells us that this change in how people are in relationship with each other is likely to endure.
From the start, Meyer hoped to unite people across the basin toward a healthier Willamette. The data say that establishing a common vision for the river is one of the major accomplishments of the WRI — no small feat. And yet, this is only true for those who were part of the WRI. As a mainstream conservation program framed by Western science, the WRI had to reckon with its exclusive whiteness. This meant inviting its grantees into immersive learning, while beginning to build connections with leaders of color, Indigenous leaders and community-based organizations. Some white leaders who weren’t fully ready to dive in at the time are now the most powerful voices among their peers in support of addressing racial equity in the context of river health. It’s still early, but the work has begun to build trust between white leaders and the Indigenous leaders and leaders of color who have long advocated for healthy water, air and land for their communities but have been denied meaningful access to decision-making tables.
How was this culture shift possible in only three years? The data tell us that it was in large part due to the WRI’s culture of community and trust built over time. It was the same recipe that enabled the creation of a new community-driven organization that would live outside Meyer and center diversity, equity and inclusion from the get-go. The new Willamette River Network is poised to expand upon what the WRI started, with the leadership of Indigenous people and people of color at the fore and a vision of people and rivers thriving together.
In 2008, the Willamette mattered to Meyer and it mattered to our partners and grantees. It should matter to all of us now. About 7 out of 10 Oregonians live in the Willamette Valley, most of them within a 20-minute drive of the river. The Willamette is the largest river system that is entirely contained within Oregon's borders. This makes it our river — our gift and our responsibility. The Willamette Valley produces 75 percent of Oregon’s economic output, and our river is its backbone. It provides recreation and tourism; it waters our crops; it gives us drinking water, beer, wine and cider; it washes semiconductors. The river’s salmon have been a cornerstone of the diets and cultures of Willamette Valley Tribes since time immemorial. A healthy river system is an enormous economic and cultural asset. What would it look like to treat it as one?
I believe we’re at a pivotal moment where we can unlock far greater impact for rivers and for people, with equity at the center. But it will take a broader coalition of collaborators, including public and private funders, businesses, and industry.
The WRI has shown us how much our community is capable of when given the right kind of support. The portal is open. Let’s step through it together.
D’Artagnan Bernard Caliman joins Meyer as new Director of Justice Oregon for Black LivesdarionWed, 12/02/2020 - 17:03
I'm ecstatic to announce that Meyer Memorial Trust has named D’Artagnan Bernard Caliman as the new director of Justice Oregon for Black Lives — Meyer’s five-year, $25 million investment in Black leadership, Black-serving organizations and systemic-level change.
D’Artagnan (Dar-Tan-Yan) brings deep experience building and leading programs, as well as co-creating innovation with communities here in Oregon, across the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in the country. His roots in Portland – and his continued connection to community even from afar – affirm how driven he is to the mission of systems-level change through the centering of Black Oregonians.
D’Artagnan who most recently served as the executive director at Building Changes in Seattle, brings 24 years of experience and leadership across social work, human services, juvenile justice, gang prevention, homelessness, child welfare, philanthropy, advocacy, policy and racial equity at local, regional and national levels.
As a sixth-generation Oregonian, D’Artagnan’s personal story is interwoven with many moments and milestones in Oregon history that may ring familiar to people who were raised in historic Albina, a longtime home to Portland’s Black and Native communities. He earned a diploma from Catlin Gabel School, a sociology degree from Warner Pacific College and a master’s of social work from Portland State University. D’Artagnan’s first job was at Portland House of Umoja, where he created a culturally specific “Rites of Passage” program for young Black men. He also worked at Self Enhancement Inc. as a multi-systemic therapist working with youths who were involved in the juvenile justice system.
When D’Artagnan was 17, a close friend — Mujib Dudley — was killed in a gang shooting near NE 15th Avenue and Alberta Street. Looking out at the mourners at the funeral, he decided to take a path aimed to help to prevent such senseless violence.
Previously, D’Artagnan served as senior manager of the Child Welfare Information Gateway Digital and Web Services team, as well as a state/territory liaison providing capacity building services for public child welfare (DE, MD, NH, VA, WV and Washington, DC.) at ICF, a global consulting firm that works to improve public child welfare in partnership with the United States Children's Bureau. He has also served as the chief of staff for the Maryland Department of Human Services. He has worked as a child welfare consultant specializing in child welfare, child abuse and neglect, juvenile justice and social services. For 15 years, D’Artagnan worked in case management, community programs supervision and overseeing national partnerships in Oregon, California and Washington for the Seattle-based Casey Family Programs.
At Building Changes D’Artagnan led the strategy and implementation of effective partnerships and programs for a nonprofit working to improve the educational, health and housing outcomes for students, youths and families who experience homelessness. Through his leadership, Building Changes set a new five-year Strategic Plan to deepen the organization’s racial equity work and address disproportionality in BIPOC communities experiencing homelessness.
As the director of Justice Oregon for Black Lives, D’Artagnan will be responsible for overseeing an initiative dedicated to deepening support for Black-centered organizations and uplifting a just system of community well-being for Black-led and Black-serving organizations that intersect with other communities of color.
The Skanner quoted D’Artagnan last week in a news release about joining Meyer. He said, “I have dedicated my career to my friend’s memory and the uplifting of the Black community. With the civil unrest across the country and in our backyards across Oregon state, I am even more strongly motivated to partner with Black communities in the work of eliminating structural racism and moving toward Black liberation.”
DEI Capacity Building In Oregon: Successes, Challenges and Wisdom from Meyer Grantees
When Meyer Memorial Trust pivoted its vision towards “a flourishing and equitable Oregon” in 2016, it changed our funding structure and priorities. We began focusing our grantmaking on organizations that demonstrated commitments to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion — from internal capacity to programs, to policy and systems-level change. We knew that part of supporting organizations to join us in this “DEI evolution” would require additional funding to build capacity around DEI work.
We also recognized that at varying degrees, we would be working with organizations at different stages of implementing DEI strategies. So, we created a separate pool of funds that program officers could easily and quickly draw from to provide funding for technical assistance to increase the DEI capacity of our grantees. These DEI capacity building or technical assistance (TA) grants were grounded in Meyer’s belief that when organizations are more inclusive, with diverse representation and hold equitable internally policies, their work and service outcomes will improve for all populations, especially historically marginalized groups.
Grantees leveraged their TA grants to provide training for their staff members and boards of directors; to meet organizational development needs for their DEI goals, such as creating an equity vision, plan or committee; and to conduct other activities vital for DEI.
Four years after launching this funding — and over $4 million in grants distributed — we wanted to know what kind of impact these funds were having and what we could learn from grantees about the successes and challenges of moving toward deeper DEI.
Through surveys, focus groups and individual interviews with grantees, we learned much about how grantees use these kinds of funds, what successes and challenges are experienced when tackling DEI capacity work, and some promising ways to use funds. We also learned where we can improve our grantmaking practices and increase clarity. Grantees were generous and forthcoming, sharing lessons learned and advice to other organizations doing this work and to Meyer.
Those words have been my mantra in 2020, the last thoughts before I fall asleep, the thoughts I woke to this morning. I share them with you now as we take a breath and acknowledge that this isn’t over.
What happened this election season, nationally and especially here in Oregon, what has happened with the COVID-19 pandemic that has overturned normal life across the globe, what has happened in Western forests that has devastated rural communities and made caustic the very air we breathe, what has happened on our streets since Americans began to decry the institutional racism that has eaten away at our democracy since its founding — none of it is over. Whatever historians decide to call this moment of rupture and reckoning, it isn’t over yet.
No matter the uncertainty that we awoke to today and may awake to for days, weeks or months to come, the work continues to ensure our democracy lives up to its promise. That work has never been pretty, and it is rarely without discomfort. Black and Indigenous communities and people of color have long fought for the flourishing and equitable country that we all want. No substantial change toward fair housing, healthy environments, equitable education or thriving, inclusive communities has come without the leadership of BIPOC folks. In recent months, we’ve seen Black communities call for the country we all want, a democracy that serves each of us. We recognize and honor their leadership in this election cycle and in this voting season. Even as the work continues to ensure every vote is counted and marshalling resistance to injustice, so too does the work continue for institutions like Meyer Memorial Trust.
The values that guide Meyer are tailor-made for this long moment of uncertainty.
Responsiveness and flexibility, because we recognize that although the needs of Oregon evolve over time, there is value in long-term commitments in order to bring about change
Collaboration, because we cannot make change happen alone
Humbleness, which our founder, Fred G. Meyer, modeled and which guides us in all our interactions
Accountability and transparency, because measuring our progress and being honest about our missteps build trust
Advocacy, which acts as a lever for systems change
Most importantly equity, which we define as fair access to opportunities
Hundreds of years of inequity weren’t going to change last night, no matter which lawmakers won. No matter how many Americans braved rain, long lines or other efforts to disenfranchise. But our values will keep us resilient
What I have watched these past months gives me a flame of hope. Although this country’s system of constitutional democracy can be paralyzed by partisan polarization, it can also be mobilized by it. A broken democracy is a democracy ripe for bold reforms. Protest, the bedrock of our democracy, has been reinvigorated right here in Portland, where Oregonians have raised their voices daily for more than six months, and their calls for justice have produced real results. The 2020 census self-response rate surpassed 2010’s rate, thanks to the “We Count Oregon” and “Hard to Count” campaigns, funded by a public/private partnership Meyer was proud to lead. Record-breaking voter turnout is a win. Last night, voters approved a new Portland police oversight board and signed off on universal preschool.
In the next few weeks, Meyer will announce its new Justice Director, hired to oversee our largest-ever initiative, Justice Oregon for Black Lives. This five-year initiative is among over a billion dollars committed by foundations around the country to fuel racial justice. In a state founded as a white utopia, Justice Oregon for Black Lives is a powerful step to fund and uplift a just system of public safety and community well-being while investing in long-term, lasting strategic change.
I remind myself to credit every win, to celebrate victories where they come, to be spacious with others as each of us grapples with this year’s unique combination of struggles, to step into joy when agitators use their voices and power to call out inequities.
It can be challenging when your inbox is full of tears.
But we know that even in chaos there is great possibility. Eight months into this global pandemic, in the early stages of an anti-racist reckoning, faced with the environmental consequences we have known were likely, this is the time to be audacious. To refuse to settle for the old normal. To hold firm. To listen and bridge and act on our common values.
So that’s what I’m going to do. And that’s what my organization will continue to do. No matter the political winds. No matter the uncertainty. No matter how long it takes to change unfair systems. I may not know what the future holds, but I know what I’m going to fight for. Meyer will continue to lift up the voices of our grantee partners, to support justice and democracy, and to pursue our mission of an Oregon that is equitable and thriving for each Oregonian.
It most certainly isn’t over. If this year has taught us anything it is that we navigate the unimaginable, together. The challenge, James Baldwin reminded us, is in the moment and the time is always now.
Heeding the cries for justice: Justice Oregon for Black LivesdarionMon, 07/13/2020 - 22:53
The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others at the hands of police have motivated activists of all stripes in the United States and abroad to demand justice for Black people. Their calls for justice have blossomed into a movement that demands attention and action to dismantle and reimagine the systems and institutions that uphold racism and injustice in our communities.
The Meyer Memorial Trust board condemns anti-Black racism and prejudice in all forms. We acknowledge the role anti-Blackness has played in Oregon, a state founded on the principle of excluding Black people from stepping inside its borders. We understand that the threads of anti-Blackness codified in Oregon’s original constitution remain woven into the fabric of our society. We know that injustice will persist until Oregonians can entirely disentangle our laws, institutions, policies and beliefs from those historic threads.
Since 2014, Meyer’s mission has been to work with and invest in organizations, communities, ideas and efforts that contribute to a flourishing and equitable Oregon. In our work we have defined equity to mean the existence of conditions where all people can reach their full potential. While all four of our grantmaking portfolios list people of color as priority populations, this moment in history demands that we be explicit about who faces barriers to reaching their full potential. Now is the moment to address the specific experiences of Black Oregonians, to state unequivocally that Black lives matter.
On June 29, we voted to launch a new program at Meyer: Justice Oregon for Black Lives. This is a $25 million five-year commitment to lift up Black Oregonians, leadership and organizations. This initiative harnesses the momentum toward racial justice by deepening investment in Black-led and Black-serving organizations, community well-being and lasting strategic change.
Strategies for Justice Oregon for Black Lives will be developed in collaboration with Black communities, leaders and organizations in Oregon. Meyer will strive to be flexible and responsive to meet the needs of a movement that is unfolding quickly and will continue to evolve. It is our intention that Justice Oregon for Black Lives will seed systems-level change by centering Black Oregonians and supporting work with the potential to improve the lives of all Oregonians. The work of achieving justice requires contribution from all sectors of society. We call on our peers in philanthropy and our partners in business and industry to pull the levers of power within their reach to support this movement. We look forward to working together.
Meyer remains committed to our nonprofit partners across Oregon, whose work we support through our Equitable Education, Healthy Environment, Housing Opportunities and Building Community portfolios. Justice Oregon deepens Meyer’s investment in the state beyond these portfolios.
In just a few weeks, the movement has opened a national dialogue, driven municipal policy changes and removed symbols of racism from sports arenas, consumer products, statehouses, state flags and monument pedestals. These signals of change are the result of decades of advocacy and groundwork laid by Black leaders, communities and organizations. We know there is more to come. We stand with the stalwart champions of justice and with the emerging leaders of the present mobilization. We are in this with you for the long haul.
— Toya Fick, Charles Wilhoite, Janet Hamada, Mitch Hornecker, Alice Cuprill-Comas and Amy Tykeson
Justice Oregon for Black Lives: A five-year, $25 million commitmentdarionMon, 07/13/2020 - 22:11
George Floyd begged the police for more than 8 minutes not to take his life.
Nearly two months have passed since his videotaped slaying, and hundreds of thousands of people continue to take to the streets to protest brutal policing practices against Black Americans, condemn racism, demand accountability and affirm that Black lives do in fact matter.
Diverse and overwhelmingly peaceful, the protests have had swift, wide-ranging impacts. Here in Oregon, tens of thousands from across the state have shown up amid the coronavirus pandemic to add their voices to the calls for justice. In Portland, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero ordered “school resource officers” removed from the city’s schools, the Portland City Council approved $15 million in cuts from the Portland Police Bureau budget amidst policy calls to support broader public safety and community well-being, and new, reform-minded district attorneys have pledged to change prosecutorial practices in various jurisdictions including Multnomah County.
I’ll be plain: These local victories are the product of long-standing leadership, activism and direct action by Black leaders, steadfast allies and, especially, Black-led and Black-serving social change organizations, from established mainstays like the Urban League of Portland to grassroots efforts. Six weeks into the protests, the country is in a moment of unprecedented reckoning as systemic and institutional anti-Black racism are laid bare and growing crowds demand real change. In Oregon, we are faced with an urgent opportunity to transform and build anew. Radical change may be more possible today than ever before.
Meyer Memorial Trust, an institution with equity at the heart of our work, will meet the moment by supporting Black resilience in Oregon.
This month, our board of trustees approved the creation of a five-year, $25 million initiative to make strategic investments in Black lives. “Justice Oregon for Black Lives” is the largest initiative in our 38-year history. Its scale recognizes that racial injustice was built into the framework of a state founded on stolen lands and explicit in its exclusion of Black people. Justice is not simply an ideal; it is something Oregonians should expect to see in our everyday lives. This dedicated funding will deepen support for Black-centered organizations, uplift a just system of community well-being and invest in long-term lasting strategic change. By supporting Black-led and Black-serving organizations that intersect with other communities of color, we know that conditions will improve for all Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in Oregon, and in turn, for all Oregonians.
In an indication of how vitally important this work is to Meyer, we are tapping into our endowment to fund this initiative beyond our usual annual grantmaking.
For six years, Meyer has built towards this moment. We’ve shared our equity journey, which has reshaped our grantmaking, our hiring practices and how we use our privilege, voice and power. Never has it been more clear that the core concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion point to racial justice, to an Oregon that lives up to the ideals it promised to some and withheld from others.
We start now and will build to make our mark. Initial general operating grants totaling $1 million go out this week to five organizations Meyer already has relationships with that are doing transformative work in Black communities. Another $290,000 supports organizations focused on a wide range of issue areas: decarceration and decriminalization, abolishment of the prison-industrial complex, hate tracking and advocacy, redefining public safety beyond policing and cross-cultural approaches to racial justice. We plan to hire a program director* with lived experience to lead the Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative, deepening our relationships with Black-led organizations and starting new partnerships.
Philanthropic support of Black-led organizations historically falls short and with this infusion Meyer aims to reverse that trend and make this a mainstay of how we invest in Oregon’s future from now on. Oregon’s flawed founding does not predict its future. The times call on us to eradicate racism and right wrongs. We are proud to back leaders who are not only ready but determined to succeed.
— Michelle J. DePass
*Meyer launched a search for the Director of Oregon Justice for Black Lives on Sept. 14. Learn more here.
Over the past few weeks, I joined staff and trustees of Meyer Memorial Trust in mourning the racist slayings of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others by recklessly violent police and white vigilantes.
Billions of people around the world subsequently watched the slow, calculated indifference of Minneapolis Police officers as they stole the life of George Floyd, a Black father and nightclub bouncer. Like the death of Emmett Till in 1955, the murder of George Floyd has thrust the country to the brink of change.
Sixty-five years ago, the lynching of a 14-year-old boy spurred a movement that eventually spelled the end of Jim Crow laws that denied Black Americans their share of the American Dream. With the murder of George Floyd, we are again at a precipice of change. This time, my neighbors here in Oregon and across the country are taking on the very systems that largely remain unchanged from the Jim Crow era and slavery before that.
Philanthropy spends a lot of energy talking about systems-level change. It can seem a dull topic when cities are not on fire. But it should be the root of what foundations do. I often ask myself, to what higher purpose can philanthropy aspire? And I consider how a sector that was built on inordinate wealth and privilege can help shift the conditions that hold inequities and disparities firmly in place.
But I worry. And I am not alone.
Vu Le, executive director of RVC—a Seattle-based nonprofit that promotes social justice by cultivating leaders of color—is no stranger at calling out philanthropy on his blog, nonprofitAF. Like me, Vu has been re-reading Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which Dr. King warns of the white moderate, who presses for order over justice, for calm rather than for change. Vu asks, have nonprofits and philanthropy “become the ‘white moderate’ that Dr. King warned us about?”
It is the right question, and the answer is troubling.
Dr. King wrote: “I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality.“
Now is the time to push forward to change the broken systems that allow more than 1,000 people to be killed by police year in and year out, and allow those killers to face little more than slaps on the wrist.
This week, in a video town hall series and a pair of online essays, former President Barack Obama addressed the calls for culture change echoing across the country, saying the status quo cannot shift without pressure. “That’s why protests work.”
He, too, spoke of systems change.
“Most of the reforms that are needed to prevent the type of violence and injustices that we’ve seen take place at the local level,” President Obama said on Wednesday. “There is a change in mindset that’s taking place, a greater recognition that we can do better. That is not as a consequence of speeches by politicians. That’s not the result of spotlights in news articles. That’s a direct result of the activities and organizing and mobilization and engagement of so many young people across the country who put themselves out on the line to make a difference.”
Justice often isn’t orderly. Philanthropy can and should break down barriers to justice anyway.
Meyer is committed to investing in meaningful, transformative shifts in policies, processes, relationships and power structures. To upend generations old systems takes collective, multi-layered, long-game work and we do not do it alone. Our grantees and community partners stand on the front lines, moving the needle and advocating for measurable change. We hear their calls and we are by their side.
At this moment, when despair threatens every moment, Meyer celebrates their uphill work as the clearest path to create an equitable Oregon where all people can flourish.
— Michelle J. DePass
President & CEO
Meyer Memorial Trust