05-26-2018  4:49 pm      •     
The Skanner Report
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Attorney General Forms Hate Crime Task Force

The task force will study hate-motivated crimes and review existing legal protections for victims ...

Portland Art Museum Celebrates Art Museum Day with Free Admission on May 25

Portland Art Museum joins art museums across North America, with great works of art and public programs ...

June Key Delta Community Center Hosts May Week ’18 Health Fair May 26

Event includes vision, glucose screenings, medication disposal and car seat installation ...

Mississippi Avenue Giving Tuesday

On Tuesday, May 22, 10 percent of proceeds from participating Mississippi Ave. businesses will go to SEI ...

Amtrak: No evidence injured passenger was in fight

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The family of a 22-year-old train passenger found severely injured next to railroad tracks in Truckee, California, suspects he may have been the victim of a hate crime, but Amtrak said Saturday that investigators have found no evidence of foul play.Aaron Salazar's family...

Investigation: Police fired 14 bullets, shotgun at man

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An investigation by the Portland Police Bureau says Portland police officers and a Multnomah County sheriff's deputy fired 14 bullets, three shotgun blasts and nine less-lethal rounds at a man inside a Portland homeless shelter.KATU-TV reports the investigation material...

City aims to block release of dangerous psychiatric patients

LAKEWOOD, Wash. (AP) — The city that houses Western State Hospital, Washington's main psychiatric facility, is fighting to keep patients from being released into its boundaries.The News Tribune reports Lakewood on Monday approved a moratorium on city business licenses for new adult family...

Missing fisherman found by divers in submerged vessel

SEATTLE (AP) — The body of a missing fisherman was found by divers inside the sunken vessel, the Kelli J.The Coast Guard said Saturday that the body was found before the vessel was refloated by contractors in Willapay Bay on Friday.The Pacific County Sheriff's Office took the fisherman's...


Racism After Graduation May Just Be What's on the Menu

Dr. Julianne Malveaux says that for our young millennials, racism is inevitable ...

Prime Minister Netanyahu Shows Limits of Israel’s Democracy

Bill Fletcher, Jr. on racial politics in Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s uneven treatment of African immigrants ...

Golfing While Black Is Not a Crime

Grandview Golf Club asks five Black women to leave for golfing too slow ...

Discovering the Best of Black America in 2018

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis discusses the DTU Journalism Fellowship & Scholarship Program ...


Meeting draws people angry over fatal police shooting

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — More than 200 people turned out for a community meeting Saturday to protest the death of a young black man who was fatally shot by a Virginia police officer after he ran naked onto an interstate highway.Speakers at the meeting at Richmond's Second Baptist Church said...

The Latest: Family: Police need to handle people better

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Latest on the fatal police shooting of a naked and unarmed man in Richmond (all times local):5:16 p.m.Family and friends of a man who was fatally shot by Richmond police after running naked onto an interstate highway are calling on police to find non-lethal ways of...

White neighbor gets prison for harassing black family

EASTON, Pa. (AP) — A neighbor accused of harassing and using racial epithets against a black Pennsylvania family for years has been sentenced to prison.A Northampton County judge sentenced 45-year-old Robert Kujawa to the term Friday after a jury convicted him of ethnic intimidation,...


Glenn Snoddy, inventor of fuzz pedal for guitarists, dies

MURFREESBORO, Tennessee (AP) — A recording engineer whose invention of a pedal that allowed guitarists to create a fuzzy, distorted sound most famously used by Keith Richards in the Rolling Stones' hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" has died.Glenn Snoddy was 96. His daughter Dianne Mayo...

Reaction to criminal charges filed against Harvey Weinstein

Reaction to rape and other criminal charges filed in New York on Friday against Harvey Weinstein:"I hope this gives hope to victims and survivors everywhere, that we are one step closer to justice. Because one win is a win for all of us." — Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan, to The Associated...

Vindication, triumph, also fear: Weinstein accusers react

NEW YORK (AP) — Watching the stunning images of Harvey Weinstein walking into a courthouse Friday in handcuffs, a detective on each arm, Louisette Geiss still felt a shiver of fear in reaction to the man who, she says, once cornered her and tried to physically force her to watch him...


Resisting Trump in a bright red state

EDMOND, Oklahoma (AP) — Vicki Toombs was watching the returns on election night 2016 when her phone buzzed...

Legal hurdles may make Weinstein's prosecution an exception

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Harvey Weinstein's arrest in New York Friday is a landmark moment in the #MeToo...

Amid anti-immigrant sentiment, some Spanish speakers wary

PHOENIX (AP) — Until recently, Lilly Mucarsel has spoken Spanish just about everywhere since arriving in...

Ebola vaccinations begin in rural Congo on Monday: Ministry

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Ebola vaccinations will begin Monday in the two rural areas of Congo where the...

Israeli soldier badly wounded in West Bank arrest raid dies

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military says a soldier who was seriously wounded in action this week has...

US warns Syrian government not to advance on south

BEIRUT (AP) — The United States warned it would take "firm and appropriate measures" to protect a...

MRG’s new executive director, Roberta Phillip-Robbins, left, with Sharon Gary-Smith, right. (Courtesy: MRG Foundation)
Melanie Sevcenko

The idea of a force like Sharon Gary-Smith ever slowing down seems almost comical. But, at 68-years-old, this mogul has recently stepped down from her role as the executive director of the McKenzie River Gathering (MRG) Foundation, a 40-year-old philanthropic organization that mobilizes resources for Oregon communities.

With unprecedented vigor and integrity, Gary-Smith joined MRG in 2011 and helped steer the charitable nonprofit into the spotlight.

As the daughter of a fierce activist who once sat on MRG’s grant-making committee, Gary-Smith was raised with her mother’s social justice spirit, which she took to the streets and communities of Portland.

“You did the work, no matter what your station in life, whether you were African America or female,” recalled Gary-Smith in an interview with The Skanner.

From her earliest years, Gary-Smith remembers wanting to stand out for her talents and passions, especially among Oregon’s overwhelming White population. And so it was MRG’s support of groups such as the Black United Fund, the Coalition for Black Men, and various labor and immigrant organizations that aligned with her own interests. “That work was very challenging and different in Oregon, to stand up politically and say, ‘We’re investing our money in this change,’” she said.

Gary-Smith’s life-long drive to make change led to careers in Atlanta, Georgia, where she worked with a national black women's health project, and as the president of the Urban League in Austin, Texas.

But her unwavering aspiration was to challenge the changemaker persona of philanthropy. Coinciding with that urge, she developed a knack discussing diversity, equity and inclusion with closed-door corporations.

“I’m an angry, gentle woman,” laughed Gary-Smith. “So I’ve tried to use that, to have conversations in places that so seldom we’re allowed, or anyone who is ‘other-ized,’ particularly in philanthropy, with all that money, power and historically embedded racism.”

When she found out that the MRG Foundation was looking for a new executive director, she wondered if the organization would be ready for someone like her – an engaged and public figure and a woman of color.

But it was the foundation’s unique take on philanthropy that ultimately won her over. Rather than leave the decision making to an often disconnected wealthy few, MRG embraces a “by the community, for the community” approach. In truth, it relies on a committee of boots-on-the-ground activists that recommend groups for funding. And that culminates in hands-on, intentional relationships with potential grantees.

“That’s powerful, change-making philanthropy,” she said of MRG’s tactic.

In 2011, she would become the first African American woman to run a philanthropic foundation in Oregon.

For five and a half years, Gary-Smith helped take MRG from being a highly effective “little engine that could” to an outspoken foundation with an equal place at the table of big players.

From that advantage point, the foundation was able to discuss its strategies and community engagement, while inviting other funders to try its practice of long-term equity work.

“We had something that they didn’t have, in how we built credibility in communities of color,” she said.

Gary-Smith helped ensure that MRG’s funding was representative and reflective of the places with the greatest struggles for equity and opportunity; African American, Latino and Native American communities, among them.

Having the selective power to grant millions is a difficult position to give up, admits Gary-Smith. “But it’s important to me that we make space and be willing to open doors to places that have been barred to us, intentionally and deliberately, to let more bright, capable and engaged people in.”

In order to do that, said Gary-Smith, you need to be able to walk away.

“I think we have to inform (foundations) with more people – men, women, people of different color, faith, race, perspectives – in order to make the best decisions about moving money to make change.”

Refraining from the term “retired”, Gary-Smith said she’s now taking time off for “a little mindfulness.” But she’s also been reflecting on her own mentors – the people who embraced her passion and made way for her work.

“How do I pass that on? How do I mentor? How do I lead by following? That’s what I want to do. And I want to learn how to sit down,” she said with a big smile.

Roberta Phillip-Robbins takes the reins as MRG’s new executive director, an appointment that Gary-Smith couldn’t be happier about. “Passing this on is tradition, and it’s exciting,” she said, calling Phillip-Robbins an energetic, passionate and intelligent pick.

Within the next six months, this “angry gentle woman” will likely be back on her feet, making change and spreading hope. “I want people to really see philanthropy,” she said, “which is the power of doing good with money, for the transformation we all deserve.”

In November, the MRG Foundation was recognized by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Oregon chapter, as the 2016 Outstanding Philanthropic Foundation. Sharon considered it a wonderful goodbye present.


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