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Marchers lay down on the Burnside Bridge for nine minutes on Tuesday evening, June 2, 2020, symbolizing the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd's neck. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP)
Saundra Sorenson
Published: 23 July 2020

The Meyer Memorial Trust has awarded nearly $1.3 million to 11 Black-led and Black-serving organizations, citing the urgent need to proclaim that Black lives matter.

It was the inaugural round of its largest initiative to date, Justice Oregon for Black Lives, a five-year, $25 million push for strategic and systemic change at the community level.

Grants of $200,000 were awarded to the Black United Fund, KairosPDX, Portland African American Leadership Forum, Self Enhancement, Inc. and Urban League of Portland.

“I believe it is possible for philanthropy to show up differently and to push toward the alignment of actions and values rooted in racial justice,” Kaberi Banerjee Murthy, Meyer’s director of program and strategy, said in a press release. “Now feels like a once-in-a-lifetime moment when the momentum has built thanks to the work of so many, and the change that we’ve been pushing for is possible.”

Smaller grants were awarded to American Civil Liberties Foundation of Oregon, Center for Intercultural Organizing, Communities United for People, Critical Resistance Portland, Oregon Justice Resource Center, Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Program for Portland United Against Hate.

“They just decided to create this new portfolio and launch it by giving initiation grants to organizations they have a relationship with,” Rabbi Deb Kolodny, director of Portland United Against Hate, told The Skanner. “We are part of their services and systems cohort.

"I was thrilled to see the list of organizations. We’re honored to be in the number.”

According to MMT, future grants are expected to support wealth-building, prosecutorial reform, and a bold re-imagining of public safety, as well as efforts to counter hate and “dismantle anti-Blackness.”

The Meyer Memorial Trust was established in 1982 from Fred G. Meyer’s estate, with a stated focus on housing, education, environment, and community. In 2014, MMT prioritized its support for organizations fighting for equity and communities of color. Representatives for the foundation stated that the mission of proclaiming support for Black Oregonians has become urgent, and that the foundation voted June 29 to launch its largest initiative to date.

“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,” they said.

Supporting Students

lma laiyo foster introDr. LM Alaiyo Foster“It’s definitely going to increase our capacity,” Dr. LM Alaiyo Foster, director of the Black United Fund of Oregon, told The Skanner. “That means extra staff, looking at what we can do to increase programmatic supply. In the midst of COVID, we have had to transition a lot of things to digital platforms. We’re asking, how are we doing social distancing and maintaining that, but also being an active resource to our community? That’s very important because our community is disproportionately impacted by (COVID).”

The organization was originally founded in 1983 to fill the gap in philanthropic giving, which often ignored communities of color. Similarly, MMT pointed out that nonprofits run by leadership of color have also suffered from underfunding -- what MMT called “a kind of philanthropic redlining.” One study found that the revenues of Black-run organizations are on average 45% less than those of White-led foundations.

The Black United Fund now largely focuses on access to post-secondary education, offering support in the college application process and by giving scholarships to private high schools and undergrad students.

“The support from Meyer is going to help strengthen the existing program,” Alaiyo Foster said. “It’s not so much adding a new program, but it is a shift in the direction of the current program. What we’re looking at now is post-secondary options, so you graduate high school, maybe you want to go into a trade program, or maybe you want to explore the workforce.

"I don’t want children of color to feel forced into that (collegiate) atmosphere.

"The ivory tower is not always user-friendly, and we don’t want to unintentionally give the message that if you’re not going to college we’re not here for you or you’re not valuable.”

Enhancing Education

kali ladd introKali LaddKali Ladd, executive director of KairosPDX, called MMT’s initiative “bold.” She and other recipients were surprised to receive funding, as MMT did not have a traditional request for proposal process, opting instead to award grants based on recognition.

KairosPDX runs a learning academy, conducts policy and advocacy work at the state level, and offers training. Ladd told The Skanner KairosPDX’s efforts have been focused on “rooting out White supremacy in education, and building off the assets of children, affirming Black identity and culture, and creating communities of belonging where Black children can thrive.”

She said the grant would be used for general operating expenses, and to support the work her organization does around systemic change.

“We are a resilient people,” Ladd said.

“Sometimes the narrative is very much on the traumas of the Black community. But we’ve overcome, as Black people, a lot. How do we tap into that resiliency to create space for children where they thrive?”

Tracking Hate

One of the youngest organizations on the list of recipients, Portland United Against Hate was founded to track and respond to hate activity, which has been on the rise since the 2016 election.

“We have at this point almost 600 incidents from two-and-a-half years,” Kolodny told The Skanner. “To give you an idea of the underreporting, in 2018, (the Portland office of) the FBI said there were 15 hate crimes.”

PUAH runs ReportHatePDX.com, a tool where hate incidents can be reported anonymously, and where victims can find resources for support. She emphasizes such a reporting process is not a pathway to the police.

“We’re also putting out quarterly reports (undefined) now and analyzing the data,” Kolodny said. “Where are things happening? Who is most targeted? What time of day? We’re finding it’s mostly during the workday, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Folks are so emboldened. We also found there was an incredible disproportionate impact on people who identify as nonbinary or gender-fluid.”

The new and unexpected funding will enable PUAH to continue its work, and to support its efforts, which Kolodny said have gone “into overdrive” with the ongoing demonstrations against police violence throughout Portland.

“Recently we put out a call to protesters to say police violence is hate violence,” she said. “We’ve collected 40 incidents of police violence from protestors, but it’s a reflection of the experience of thousands of people.”

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