Justice Oregon for Black Lives: A five-year, $25 million commitment

George Floyd begged the police for more than 8 minutes not to take his life.

Nearly two months have passed since his videotaped slaying, and hundreds of thousands of people continue to take to the streets to protest brutal policing practices against Black Americans, condemn racism, demand accountability and affirm that Black lives do in fact matter.

Diverse and overwhelmingly peaceful, the protests have had swift, wide-ranging impacts. Here in Oregon, tens of thousands from across the state have shown up amid the coronavirus pandemic to add their voices to the calls for justice. In Portland, Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero ordered “school resource officers” removed from the city’s schools, the Portland City Council approved $15 million in cuts from the Portland Police Bureau budget amidst policy calls to support broader public safety and community well-being, and new, reform-minded district attorneys have pledged to change prosecutorial practices in various jurisdictions including Multnomah County.

I’ll be plain: These local victories are the product of long-standing leadership, activism and direct action by Black leaders, steadfast allies and, especially, Black-led and Black-serving social change organizations, from established mainstays like the Urban League of Portland to grassroots efforts. Six weeks into the protests, the country is in a moment of unprecedented reckoning as systemic and institutional anti-Black racism are laid bare and growing crowds demand real change. In Oregon, we are faced with an urgent opportunity to transform and build anew. Radical change may be more possible today than ever before.

Meyer Memorial Trust, an institution with equity at the heart of our work, will meet the moment by supporting Black resilience in Oregon.

This month, our board of trustees approved the creation of a five-year, $25 million initiative to make strategic investments in Black lives. “Justice Oregon for Black Lives” is the largest initiative in our 38-year history. Its scale recognizes that racial injustice was built into the framework of a state founded on stolen lands and explicit in its exclusion of Black people. Justice is not simply an ideal; it is something Oregonians should expect to see in our everyday lives. This dedicated funding will deepen support for Black-centered organizations, uplift a just system of community well-being and invest in long-term lasting strategic change. By supporting Black-led and Black-serving organizations that intersect with other communities of color, we know that conditions will improve for all Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in Oregon, and in turn, for all Oregonians.

In an indication of how vitally important this work is to Meyer, we are tapping into our endowment to fund this initiative beyond our usual annual grantmaking.

For six years, Meyer has built towards this moment. We’ve shared our equity journey, which has reshaped our grantmaking, our hiring practices and how we use our privilege, voice and power. Never has it been more clear that the core concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion point to racial justice, to an Oregon that lives up to the ideals it promised to some and withheld from others.

We start now and will build to make our mark. Initial general operating grants totaling $1 million go out this week to five organizations Meyer already has relationships with that are doing transformative work in Black communities. Another $290,000 supports organizations focused on a wide range of issue areas: decarceration and decriminalization, abolishment of the prison-industrial complex, hate tracking and advocacy, redefining public safety beyond policing and cross-cultural approaches to racial justice. We plan to hire a program director* with lived experience to lead the Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative, deepening our relationships with Black-led organizations and starting new partnerships.

Philanthropic support of Black-led organizations historically falls short and with this infusion Meyer aims to reverse that trend and make this a mainstay of how we invest in Oregon’s future from now on. Oregon’s flawed founding does not predict its future. The times call on us to eradicate racism and right wrongs. We are proud to back leaders who are not only ready but determined to succeed.

Michelle J. DePass


*Meyer launched a search for the Director of Oregon Justice for Black Lives on Sept. 14. Learn more here.

A mural in NE Portland honoring Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. | Artist: Christian Grijalva | Photo credit: Tojo Andrianarivo

A mural in NE Portland honoring Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. | Artist: Christian Grijalva | Photo credit: Tojo Andrianarivo

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Now is the time to change the system

Now is the time to change the system...

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

Protesters in Portland during a march in support of justice for George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter human rights movement. Photo credit: Fred Joe Photo.

Protesters in Portland during a march in support of justice for George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter human rights movement. Photo credit: Fred Joe Photo.

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75 Days

It has been more than ten weeks since Meyer’s offices closed and staff began working remotely when the pandemic hit Oregon. We thought we might be out for two weeks, but, like everyone else, we are adjusting as the world changes around us. 

One thing that hasn’t changed is our value of responsiveness and our commitment to meeting our grantee partners where they are. As a foundation that centers equity in all of our work, we wanted to partner with organizations that gave us the best chance to deliver on that promise in a matter of days, not months. We know that no organization can do it all alone in times like this, so we have partnered with a range of philanthropic peers to ensure that nearly $2 million in grants from Meyer reached all corners of the state. This collaborative and multi-faceted response allowed us to support impacted Oregonians who may otherwise be made invisible in this moment, and to do so quickly by trusting partners who are in closest relationships with those communities to move resources where they are most needed. 

Within the first week of closing our offices, we made grants to relief funds to support communities across Oregon to deal with immediate impacts of COVID-19. As realities of the pandemic continued unfolding and new relief efforts emerged, we contributed to funds addressing needs among some of the populations most impacted by the novel coronavirus, specifically undocumented workers, LGBTQ+ communities, as well as women and girls. Meyer grants in immediate response to COVID-19 include: 

  • $330,000 to MRG Foundation's Community Response Fund to rapidly deploy resources to grassroots organizations working with vulnerable populations at the frontlines of the COVID-19 outbreak in Oregon.  
  • $1 million to the Oregon Community Recovery Grant Program at Oregon Community Foundation, which provides funds to nonprofit service providers in communities across the state that are particularly affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. Meyer staff is now participating on Community Advisory panels for the fund.  
  • $175,000 to Pride Foundation’s Crisis Community Care Fund to help sustain organizations meeting the critical needs of LGBTQ+ communities in Oregon and throughout the Pacific Northwest. 
  • $150,000 to the Women’s Foundation COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund which provides support to domestic violence shelters, survivors of violence, organizations providing basic services to women, behavioral and mental health supports for children and youth as well as advocacy and organizing around gender inequities.
  • $250,000 to the Oregon Worker Relief Fund which provides financial support directly to Oregonians who have lost their jobs yet are ineligible for unemployment insurance and federal stimulus relief due to their immigration status. This fund was created by and is managed by community leaders, and draws on both public and private support, including a $10 million investment from the State of Oregon. 

While $2 million is significant, it is far from the whole of Meyer’s response. Indeed, these immediate resources were deployed at the same time that we opened our Annual Funding Opportunity, through which more than $20 million will be awarded this year. Ensuring that our largest grantmaking process proceeds uninterrupted means that support can flow to work aligned with our strategic portfolios — Building Community, Equitable Education, Healthy Environment and Housing Opportunities — all of which continue to focus on undoing long-standing inequities that are now amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this moment of uncertainty, we are maintaining Meyer’s steadfast commitment to grantmaking. Despite significant volatility in financial markets, we have not reduced our grant budget and we remain committed to staying above the 5 percent payout required of philanthropic foundations.

We prioritized keeping the 2020 Annual Funding Opportunity moving but also offered flexibility, including deadline extensions for organizations requesting a bit more time and even experimenting with a few applicants on accepting proposals they had submitted to other funders. As we continue to adapt our approach to the work to meet our communities where they are at, we will keep listening to and learning from what our grantee partners are experiencing to ensure that our annual funding is responsive to COVID-19 realities. We don’t have it all figured out, but we are trying to meet this moment with flexibility and allow the circumstances to accelerate our learning to embrace more effective and trust based philanthropic practices. 

Like many organizations and communities across the state, we are also thinking about how to address immediate needs, significant and growing as they are, while making space to reimagine the better future Oregonians deserve. We know inequities that existed prior to COVID-19 will persist — and gaps will only widen — if we don’t implement community-driven solutions to build new and more just systems. A significant portion of Meyer’s grantmaking budget for the next year is allocated for just this kind of radical reimagining work. We will continue to use our voice in advocacy and communications to lift up solutions. 

As we move into the next phase of COVID-19 response, Meyer is committed to coming into community with nonprofit partners who understand systemic inequities better than anyone — to help us identify a strategic path forward. They know and we know that a new normal has always been needed. A flourishing and equitable Oregon for all, no exceptions. We are eager and honored to partner with communities to build the future they have dreamed of and worked for. Now is the moment.

— Kaberi

Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

Looking west over Smith Rock State Park in Oregon

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Earth Day 2020: An Unforgettable 50th Anniversary

We will never forget spring 2020. The impact of and response to the novel coronavirus has been simultaneously saddening, enraging and inspiring. We are seeing heart-wrenching losses and immense health and economic fallout. We are being inspired by front-line workers who put themselves at risk to take care of the sick and keep essential services moving. People are adapting, innovating and showing kindness in so many ways. We are also coming together in one of the biggest collective actions ever by physically distancing ourselves from each other in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

What’s also crystal clear is that although COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is harming all communities, communities of color are the most impacted. A study released last week found that COVID-19 patients exposed to even a moderate increase in air pollution long term are at a greater risk of dying. Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at higher rates partly because they disproportionately live in places with more air pollution. On Friday, Race Forward, which has a mission to catalyze movement building for racial justice, summed it up: “Let’s be clear: Coronavirus kills, and structural racism is its accomplice.” This is because the systems and structures that drive how our society operates in a pandemic are the same broken systems that drive how it operates in normal days.

At Meyer, we understand this. We know that structural, institutional, historical and systemic racism are components in the context in which we do our work. We also know that the exploitative mindset that underlies structural racism is the same mindset that drives and sustains the overexploitation of nature. Dominance of people and nature is the story of our nation and of Oregon.

Organizers of the Oregon Environmental Justice Pathways Summit postponed the in-person convening until fall 2020. However, the organizers decided to host a virtual summit “teaser” last week by engaging some of the speakers to share a preview of their presentations on what would have been the summit’s opening day. In honor of Earth Day 2020 and to elevate the need to strengthen and grow Oregon’s environmental justice movement, I wanted to share some highlights from the preview.

University of Oregon Professor and Ethnic Studies Department Head Laura Pulido moderated a 90-minute webinar on Oregon’s environmental justice history that included the following speakers.

David Harrelson, Cultural Resources Department Manager and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde Community of Oregon  Gwendolyn Trice, Executive Director, Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center  Ramon Ramirez, Taconic Fellow, Community Change and Special Projects Director & Movement Elder, PCUN  Linda Tamura, Professor of Education Emerita, Willamette University

In the opening presentation by David Harrelson, entitled “The Kalapuya and the Myth of Wilderness,” David spoke about the history of the Kalapuya people’s cultural management of their ancestral territory in the Willamette Valley since time immemorial. He also explained how one of our country’s core conservation laws, the Wilderness Act of 1964, has played a role in building the narrative around the idea of “pristine nature without humans” that is grounded on the removal of Native American people and has informed how conservation has been practiced in the United States.

He reminded us that the cultural practices of the Kalapuya people have shaped their ancestral lands in northwest Oregon for more than 500 generations and that there is no “untrammeled land” — a term from the Wilderness Act — in their traditional territories. This narrative of pristine nature and the practices driven by it have invisibilized the Kalapuya people’s history and created barriers to their ability to practice traditional cultural management of the land today. David noted that he sees the opportunity to learn from, understand and translate ancestral teachings about land management to have a much more holistic and resilient management regime in the future.

Gwendolyn Trice’s presentation “Oregon Timber Culture: Then and Now” opened with the story of Black loggers from Maxville, who were recruited to move to Oregon to work in the timber industry at a time when the Oregon Constitution prohibited Black people from residing in or owning property in the state. Gwendolyn shared how the Black families in Maxville lived in segregated housing, attended segregated schools and played on a segregated baseball team, as well as greatly contributing to creating a vibrant timber community.

She talked about the significant role of the Ku Klux Klan in Oregon in the early 1900s, describing it as the the biggest social club in the state that played a key role in connecting the dominant culture at the time. It also played a prominent role in Oregon politics. Gwendolyn also talked about Vernonia, another small timber community, as a place where different racial and ethnic groups lived and worked in segregated and substandard conditions until the NAACP stepped in to advocate for improvements. Beatrice Morrow Cannady, who was the first Black woman to graduate from law school in Oregon, was a key leader in this movement.

Ramon Ramirez grounded his presentation about Oregon farmworkers in the history of the agriculture movement in the U.S., which is rooted in exploitation that began with slavery and shifted to the sharecropping system and now excludes farmworkers from national labor laws, which were first passed in the 1930s.

Ramon shared that 70% of the farmworkers who work for piece rate in the Willamette Valley are members of undocumented and Indigenous communities. Their exclusion from labor law protections, poor living conditions and legal, but dangerous, industrial agricultural practices expose them to significant health risks. Ramon shared startling information gathered from a Marion County clinic that over half of the farmworker women they serve have had miscarriages. He also shared that the average life expectancy of a farmworker is 49 as compared with 78 in the U.S. and that 25% of farmworkers get cancer.

He ended his comments by highlighting the brutal reality that even though farmworkers are deemed “essential workers” during the coronavirus crisis, most of these workers will not be able to access benefits from the recently passed CARES Act because of their citizenship status.

Linda Tamura shared how Japanese immigrants came to Oregon and how racism impacted the Japanese community for generations in the state. Japanese workers were drawn west to work on the railroads’ expansion. In the early 1900s, a strong community of Japanese immigrants grew in Hood River and gained property in exchange for clearing land for white property owners. They grew strawberries and asparagus, while establishing apple orchards.

Linda recounted how after a number of attempts, Oregon passed an Anti-Alien Land Law to prevent Japanese immigrants from purchasing land in 1923, which Japanese families were able to subvert by buying land in their children’s names. In 1942, the U.S. passed Executive Order 9066, which led to the forced removal of the Japanese community from Hood River and imprisonment in concentration camps during World War II. Many Japanese families had to abandon their businesses and personal possessions during this period. Some lost their land. After the war, parts of the Hood River community did not welcome the Japanese community’s return and tried to prevent families from returning to land they already owned.

The remarks and reflections of the speakers threaded together pieces of the history of structural racism in Oregon and its intersection with our relationship with nature today. There’s much more to unpack from this history. Understanding our shared history is an important part in addressing environmental justice issues and ensuring that all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, income, or citizenship status are able to access a clean and healthy environment where they live, work and play.

I encourage you all to tune into the full 90-minute presentation and join me in the fall at the Oregon Environmental Justice Pathways Summit.


 Ella and Devon Burke hold an Earth Day banner they made with their mom, Jill Fuglister.

Ella and Devon Burke hold an Earth Day banner they made with their mom, Jill Fuglister.

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Equity Blog: Why equity still matters during a pandemic

On the street where I live in Portland, neighbors within two blocks have shared an electronic document that lists our names and contact information, resources we have access to and can share, and a way to notify each other if we need or can provide help for things like household supplies or trips to the grocery store. The collective caring has been incredible and it feels so much better to know that we are in it together.

Our collective health depends on our individual knowledge and actions. What we do for each other matters, and a vulnerable link in our shared chain can break the protective barrier keeping the virus at bay and make us all vulnerable. I so appreciate Gov. Kate Brown’s executive decision to require us to “Stay Home, Save Lives.”

It’s pretty normal in a crisis to go directly to what is known and familiar. For more than 100 years, what was known and familiar in philanthropy was funding mainstream groups that had little or no connection to communities made most vulnerable by systemic racism and other forms of oppression. It’s really just been in the last decade that mainstream philanthropy has begun to more deeply understand equity concepts and more equitably fund organizations serving communities that are also the most vulnerable during pandemics. But circumstances of today will call on philanthropy to make a critical choice to redouble its efforts to fund equitably.

Eleven years ago, Oregon and the rest of the nation faced a similar, but less severe, pandemic: H1N1. When that pandemic was over, public health researchers studied population-based disease outcomes. What did we learn? How has that learning changed what we do now?

One study in particular sought to understand the racial disparities in exposure, susceptibility and access to health care that contributed to higher rates of H1N1 illness and death for people of color. The study found that people of color were more likely to live in crowded living conditions. They made up more of the service and wage labor force and were less likely to be able to work from home, thus increasing their exposure. They were more likely to have a chronic condition that increased susceptibility to the virus. And, finally, they were less likely to have health insurance coverage and experienced greater systemic barriers to accessing care, from lack of plain-language information and interpreters to differential treatment.

This should all sound familiar and not be surprising. New York Times magazine reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones shared a tweet stream highlighting the disproportional impact from the novel coronavirus on Black people in places where officials aggregate the data by race. We haven’t learned the lessons from H1N1, yet.

What would be surprising is if we don’t use the opportunity we have in front of us to act based on lessons learned about barriers to equitable outcomes from the past. When I was an organizational development consultant, I once worked with a nonprofit whose mission was to prepare a coastal community for the potential “Big One” earthquake and subsequent tsunami. This volunteer group was highly organized: They had a team of ham radio operators, heavy equipment (think Caterpillar) drivers and even a team responsible for rounding up lost pets. They had thought of everything, almost. What they hadn’t planned for was the small but growing group of Latinx people in their community who were fairly segregated by geography, income, language and culture. This community didn’t have information about the potential natural disaster in their own languages, didn’t know about the emergency preparedness efforts — and didn’t know where to go to be safe and accounted for, should a tsunami strike.

Unfortunately, many of the conditions that existed during the H1N1 pandemic haven’t changed. In a society that remains segregated by income and race, it’s easier to forget those whom our usual approaches (unintentional or intentional) make invisible. These systems have yet to truly address the challenges and barriers of a mere decade ago that communities of color still face. To their credit, the coastal volunteer group, once they realized their oversight, acted quickly to get linguistically appropriate information to their Latinx community members in culturally appropriate ways. Is that happening now in your community?

In the future, let’s hope that the data show that equitable outcomes were achieved even during the coronavirus that is, in itself, indiscriminate. I, for one, do not want to look back at data from today’s crisis and ask why we didn't act upon what we already knew. Meyer’s vision is a flourishing and equitable Oregon. We will only flourish if all of us, our collective Oregon, stays healthy. That’s why we will continue our commitment to prioritizing funding to our partners serving communities that remain the most vulnerable. The collective is only as strong as its most vulnerable member. The knowledge is there.

Let’s now act. Because we’re all in it. Together.

Our friends at Racial Equity Tools have created a list of Racial Equity and Social Justice Resources specific to the response to COVID-19.

— Carol

A bicyclist rides down Tom McCall Waterfront Park on a wet spring day in Portland, Oregon. Blossoming cherry trees on to the left and the Willamette River to the right.

A bicyclist rides down Tom McCall Waterfront Park on a wet spring day in Portland, Oregon. Blossoming cherry trees on to the left and the Willamette River to the right.

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We're with you for the long haul

Just like you and many others, we’ve been monitoring the rapid spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and we share the concern and uncertainty you may be experiencing related to the virus. We are also reminded of the need to care for our staff, trustees, grantees and partners as well as family and loved ones and all those impacted by the novel coronavirus.

To that end, we wanted to let you know:

  • Meyer recognizes the developing situation may affect your organization's ability to go on business trips and hold convenings that have been planned as part of our funding. We want to offer you flexibility during this time. If grant deliverables may change due to the coronavirus or you think we can be a useful partner as your organization navigates and responds to the pandemic, please contact your program officer to discuss how to best proceed.
  • Following the lead of Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, Meyer staff will work from home for the remainder of March. Although the physical office is closed, we will hold convenings virtually, postpone or cancel them as needed.
  • Our 2020 Annual Funding Opportunity will open as planned on Monday, March 16.
  • We have plans in place to ensure our ability to pay grantees with minimal disruption. Should your organization have any pressing questions or concerns regarding a grant, please don’t hesitate to email your program officer. In our collective efforts to fight this virus, we are attempting to model the cooperation needed to address challenges like these and the need for systemic-level change across all the areas in which we work.

Thank you for all that you do. We are committed to being with you for the long haul.

Stay well,


We're with you for the long haul
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To our grantee partners: We trust you.


A more recent update about Meyer's Phase I COVID-19 response funding is available here

In uncertain times, a steady partner makes a bumpy road feel a little more manageable.

Meyer Memorial Trust is committed to being a dependable neighbor, partner and funder as we all navigate the unfamiliar terrain brought on by the novel coronavirus COVID-19. We honor your work and our relationship and want you to be reassured that you have our support in these challenging times.

Last week, Meyer’s board of trustees made some key decisions to provide some relief to current grantees facing unprecedented orders to limit operations, shelter-in-place and practice social distancing. I wanted to share the details with you here. Now more than ever:

We trust you: Starting today, active Meyer grants awarded to support a program or project may now be used as general operating support to meet immediate organizational needs. With this change, you now have the option of using your Meyer grant funds for general operating support or to continue using these funds for the original grant purpose. Current grantees will receive an email with more details. Capital grants, fiscally sponsored grants and grants to non-501(c)(3) organizations are not converting to general operating support. If you have specific questions about your grant, please reach out to your program contact at Meyer. 

We value your time: We are relaxing reporting requirements for Meyer grants. In lieu of a formal report at the end of the grant period, your program officer will touch base with you to see how your organization and your community are doing.

We will use our voice for you: Meyer has joined philanthropic organizations from across the country in signing the Council on Foundations Philanthropy's Commitment During COVID-19 Pledge, which expresses our commitment to act with fierce urgency to support our nonprofit partners, as well as the people and communities hit hardest by the impacts of COVID-19.

Oregon funders are in this together: In addition to these specific changes related to your active grants, we wanted to also share that Meyer is partnering with other philanthropic organizations in two response funds MRG Foundation COVID Community Response Fund and the Oregon Community Recovery Fund established by the Oregon Community Foundation. Please take a look at these new Funds to consider if your organization is a match.

As we practice social spaciousness and prioritize the well-being of the collective, what lies ahead isn’t clear. This is uncharted territory.

But none of us are alone. We are in this together, and we are resilient, no matter how unsettling and uncertain this feels. As the days and weeks progress and the pandemic response continues to evolve, so will Meyer’s response. Meyer will be a flexible partner for you, adapting as necessary to support you as our communities moving forward.

In solidarity,

— Kaberi

Meyer remains dedicated to being a trusted and dependable partner and funder as we all navigate the unfamiliar terrain brought on by the novel coronavirus COVID
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2019 Year-end Review

When I spoke at the plenary session of the 2019 Philanthropy Northwest Annual Conference a few weeks ago, I remarked that although Meyer Memorial Trust’s course toward equity was set about six years ago, this was the year we really started sailing into the deep waters. That’s the story of 2019 at Meyer. We’ve been digging deep into the work of dismantling barriers to equity in education, housing and the environment and improving community conditions with our sights set on the horizon: a flourishing and equitable Oregon.

The final year of the decade was my first full calendar year as Meyer president and CEO, and it has been a formative time for the organization. I’m proud of what we have accomplished through the hard work and dedication of our staff and trustees and alongside our partners across the state.

Meyer’s Housing Opportunities team hosted an Equity Housing Summit that was two years in the making and brought together hundreds of housing-focused grantees and homeless service provider partners to share strengths, insights and lessons to advance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts within the field. The Building Community portfolio shifted to a two-part funding strategy focused on supporting systems change to create a just, complex, multicultural society where everyone can thrive. The Equitable Education team hosted their second annual Teachers of Color Gathering, bringing together more than 30 educators of color from around the state. The Healthy Environment team added its first program officer, Mary Rose Navarro.

After 10 years and more than $18.5 million invested in the health of the Willamette River, Meyer’s Willamette River Initiative transitioned into the independent Willamette River Network to continue and expand the Willamette Basin restoration movement. We said a fond farewell to our longest-serving trustee, Debbie Craig, who retired in April. Our trustee, Toya Fick, became our new board chair. And a few months later, we were delighted to welcome our newest trustee, Alice Cuprill-Comas, who brings strong expertise and a well-versed background in business, nonprofit governance and corporate law.

We hit the road, determined to get to know the state of Oregon through the eyes of its original inhabitants. Between October 2018 and October 2019, Meyer staff and trustees visited all nine federally recognized Tribes in the state, seeking to forge new, strong relationships with these sovereign nations.

We hosted the fourth lecture in Meyer’s Equity Speaker Series with a riveting, powerful talk by the Rev. Dr. William Barber II. In collaboration with Literary Arts, the Equity Speaker Series will continue next March with award-winning author Tommy Orange, as the culminating event of Multnomah County Library’s 2020 Everybody Reads program.

We have also been looking to the future. Next year, Meyer will undergo an exciting transition when we move from rented office space in Portland’s Pearl District to our new and permanent campus, currently under construction in North Portland’s Eliot neighborhood. Preparing for the move across the Willamette River has inspired us to think deeply about what it means to be a neighbor. We are looking forward to deepening our connection to North Portland and the community of historic Albina. We are also committed to making the campus a physical embodiment of Meyer’s mission and values, which means using the new building as a resource that will provide us the ability to offer new types of support and further investment in communities across the state.

2020 promises to be a big year for Meyer and for Oregon. Each and every day we will be looking to do more, in addition to grantmaking, to invest in change at the systemic level to ease inequities and disparities. Stay tuned for more news in the coming months as we work with our peers in the Census Equity Funders Committee of Oregon to support efforts to ensure an accurate count in the 2020 census. Visit our website and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on all things Meyer in the new year.

Until January, all of us at Meyer wish you a warm, joyous holiday season.


Meyer staff and members of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council pause for a photo after an afternoon of dialogue, learning and connection.

Meyer staff and members of the Burns Paiute Tribal Council pause for a photo after an afternoon of dialogue, learning and connection.

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Reflections on Meyer's 2019 Equity Speaker Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II

I’m lucky to be working at an organization that holds significant privilege but has asked us to take a “learning stance” to better understand the issues that face those we serve. Meyer Memorial Trust envisions a Meyer that, among other tenets, requires us to build our learning muscle to step out of our traditional philanthropy ivory tower and reduce our distance from the organizations we fund and the communities they serve.

To that end, Meyer has established an “Equity Speaker Series,” bringing national leaders to Portland two or three times a year to ignite dialogue on issues of race, equity, inclusion and diversity.

In partnership with the Coalition of Communities of Color and the Oregon Center for Public Policy, Meyer hosted 2019 Equity Speaker, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, in November. Rev. Barber is a nationally recognized social justice advocate and pastor who has built a broad-based grassroots movement to strengthen civic engagement and inspire people to imagine a more humane society.

Rev. Barber has served as the pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, since 2003 and as president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP from 2005 to 2017. Calling himself a “student of morality and public policy,” Rev. Barber founded Repairers of the Breach. The national leadership development organization began a series of “Moral Monday” rallies outside the North Carolina statehouse to protest laws that cut funding for public education and health care, suppressed voter turnout and further disenfranchised poor White, Black, First Nations and LGBTQ+ communities. The movement waged successful legal challenges to voter suppression and racial gerrymandering, and it engaged massive voter registration and education efforts.

Expanding on the Moral Monday movement, Rev. Barber has also revived Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign for the twenty-first century. In recognition of his selfless street-level activism and long history of leading national civil rights campaigns, Rev. Barber was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship “Genius Grant” in 2018.

Although the issue of U.S. poverty is deep and challenging, Rev. Barber reminded us that it may not be as complex as we make it out to be. When it comes down to it, the mandates that we hold as foundational and even sacred as stated in the Constitution require us to interrogate what it really means to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” when 140 million people are living in poverty in this country.

Additionally, he asked the audience to consider that the racialization of poverty has only supported policies that keep poverty in place. Population data show that in raw numbers, there are 40 million more White people living in poverty than people of color. In Oregon, that equates to 1.3 million. At the same time, people of color are overrepresented in the poverty and low-wealth categories. Making poverty a race issue divides us to create and maintain racist, and therefore, morally corrupt policies. We need to work together across races to address poverty. As Rev. Barber stated, “If we can’t pay the light bill, we’re all Black in the dark.”

In past positions and as Meyer’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion manager, I have theorized, planned and trained around DEI issues. But as much of these things I’ve done, and as passionate as I feel about equity and inequities, there is something so simple, and perhaps even more moving, about Rev. Barber’s logic. His call for us to stand together against the racialization of poverty and build bridges across race to address this moral crisis make total sense to me!

We are truly grateful to Rev. Barber for sharing his message in Oregon. Want to hear more from Rev. Barber himself? Watch his speech here. Want to talk more about this or Meyer’s Equity Speaker Series? Please reach out to carol [at] mmt.org

P.S. If you missed the event, you can watch Rev. Barber’s keynote on Meyer’s YouTube channel here.

Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II on stage at the Alberta Abbey during Meyer’s 2019 Equity Speakers Series

Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II on stage at the Alberta Abbey in Portland during Meyer’s 2019 Equity Speakers Series.

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Resources from Meyer’s Equity Housing Summit: A follow-up on equitable practices

In August, Meyer’s Housing Opportunities portfolio invited grantees that are keenly focused on housing or providing services to people experiencing homelessness to a daylong summit aimed at increasing equitable practices, policies and outcomes within the housing sector.

For nearly half a decade, Meyer has supported the efforts of many housing organizations in the development of their equity lens and work. The Equity Housing Summit was the culmination of those efforts. At Portland State University, Meyer’s Equity Housing Summit — Strategies to Advance the Fields, brought together more than 200 people to learn, connect and share insights and ideas as well as mark an important day for Meyer and the housing sector in Oregon.

During the event, plenary sessions grounded attendees with an equity framework for the day. An inspiring keynote from Meyer President and CEO Michelle J. DePass provided an honest reflection on our foundation’s equity journey and commitment to the work. Our special guest Glenn Harris, president and CEO of Race Forward, facilitated two enlightening plenary sessions focused on the “Racial Equity Imperative” and “Creating Racial Equity” and a breakout session about “Creating a Culture for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.”

During the breakouts, more than 40 different housing-focused organizations, from across Oregon, shared insights about the strengths and challenges they face in building equity into their work. With an emphasis on peer learning, the sessions offered a wide variety of presentations, such as Transforming Organizational Culture, Community Voice: Centering Lived Experience, and the History of Housing Discrimination in Oregon.

The summit was inspiring. People walked away with deepened commitments to equity and expanded connections with others in the sector who can strengthen and support their work.

Because equity work is always evolving, we hope that attendees continue to learn, connect and build stronger relationships with each other far beyond the summit. We also invite our partners and community members outside the Housing Opportunities portfolio to have access and learn from the information that was presented at the summit. To that end, we have created a new page on Meyer’s website dedicated to the Equity Housing Summit and sharing those resources. You can explore the new page here.

We hope our efforts keep the conversation going and keep us all learning. As Michelle J. DePass stated at the summit, “We have learned, and we keep learning, that is the only way we can inch forward.”

— co-authored by Lauren Waudé and Elisa Harrigan

2019 equity housing summit
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