Portland Activists Built Resilience Fund Inspired By Racial Justice Protests During last spring's racial justice protests, a young man in Portland, Ore., realized that people wanted to do something beyond march. So, he created the Black Resilience Fund to offer small grants.
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Portland Activists Built Resilience Fund Inspired By Racial Justice Protests

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Portland Activists Built Resilience Fund Inspired By Racial Justice Protests

Portland Activists Built Resilience Fund Inspired By Racial Justice Protests

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Some of the biggest and most contentious of 2020's racial justice protests took place in Portland, Ore. Not only did they draw attention to the calls of activists, they drew financial assistance to everyday Portlanders in the form of the Black Resilience Fund. Now nearly a year on, Katia Riddle checks in on it.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: As the Black Lives Matter protests erupted last spring, 29-year-old Cameron Whitten started getting a deluge of messages - friends checking on him.

CAMERON WHITTEN: And at first I was like, did something happen to me? (Laughter) When I realized it was is about George Floyd, I reached out to other Black people, and I said, are you having white people message you, too?

RIDDLE: Whitten was so dumbfounded by all the support, he started searching the Internet to see if there had been a viral article circulating directing white people to assess the well-being of their Black friends. Turns out people just wanted to make sure he was OK.

WHITTEN: Never in my lifetime of Black Lives Matter activism ever had that happened before.

RIDDLE: He was OK, but he saw an opportunity to help those who weren't. On May 31, he put up a post on his Facebook account asking for donations from white allies to give cash to Black Portlanders who were struggling. The first day, he raised $11,000, the next day, $55,000, the third day, more than $155,000. The Black Resilience Fund was born.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REDRAY FRAISER: (Playing guitar, singing) It's getting colder.

RIDDLE: By January, he was holding a Zoom fundraising concert.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FRAISER: My name is Redray Fraiser, and it's a pleasure to be performing for you in support of the Black Resilience Fund.

RIDDLE: In less than a year, the organization raised more than $2 million - donations from corporations, foundations, government and thousands of individuals. Whitten and co-founder Salome Chimuku registered as a non-profit, got an office and hired staff. Senators endorsed them.

Donations have waned recently, but in the last year, they've helped more than 7,000 people through payments of a few hundred dollars - people like Trayla Lomax, who last year found herself living out of her car with her three young children.

TRAYLA LOMAX: It was devastating. It was really, really, really hard just getting them used to living here and there and sometimes, you know, having to go shower at people's houses.

RIDDLE: But then a friend told her about a guy named Cameron Whitten who was helping out people like her. She completed an online application and brief screening process asking for money to put a security deposit on an apartment.

LOMAX: And it's so hard for me to even ask for help sometimes. So that was another really gratifying aspect about the Black Resilience Fund, is that it didn't make me feel less than. They were very, very compassionate, really.

WHITTEN: In my experience, the nonprofit starts with being on the other side of the plexiglass.

RIDDLE: Whitten says he understands firsthand the necessity of trusting recipients. He landed in Portland in 2009 after hitching a ride with two friends from the Virginia suburb where he grew up - a Black, queer kid with no place to go.

WHITTEN: I had a father who was abusive physically and emotionally. And I was 18 at the time, and I didn't have a single desire or hope for my future because I honestly didn't think I deserved one.

RIDDLE: Whitten spent years crashing on couches and living in shelters. But he worked his way through college, eventually getting jobs in government and nonprofits. Now that he's in a position of helping others, he's determined to make the process of getting aid less dehumanizing than what he experienced.

WHITTEN: We didn't need to see paystubs. We didn't need to see leases or, you know, bank statements to know that these folks were in crisis, to know that Black folks have always needed a real economic jumpstart like a stimulus package in order for there to be parity with our racial wealth gap.

RIDDLE: That wealth gap is laid bare in the kinds of things recipients report using the money for - food, rent, power bills. And also many unique stories - the woman who needed to fly home for her sister's funeral, the mom who needed equipment to homeschool her child with autism. For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle in Portland.

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