Fund promises financial aid for members of marginalized Portland communities

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The organization formerly known as Black Lives Matter Portland has launched a mutual aid fund open to city residents who need assistance.

Black Portland Organizers Working to End Racism, or Black POWER, has so far raised more than $20,000 from more than 300 donors. The group began fundraising online in February and announced the launch of the fund last week.

According to a flyer posted to the group’s Instagram account, while anyone can apply to receive money, local people of color and members of the Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ communities will have priority for the funds. 

The goal of Black POWER’s mutual aid fund is to help ease economic injustice in Portland, especially for members of marginalized groups. (Courtesy Black POWER)

Black POWER member Howa Mohamed said the group sees the mutual aid fund as a building block toward doing more advocacy work. She also said one of Black POWER’s main goals is to fight for economic justice and an “equitable existence” for everybody, not just those in the Black community. 

Many marginalized groups in the U.S. have been harmed in different ways, but especially economically throughout history, she said, and having a mutual aid fund is one way to address that. The COVID-19 pandemic, she added, has made many more people financially vulnerable, especially those in marginalized groups.

“We’re fighting for the liberation of all people, knowing that as we fight for Black liberation we know that other communities are going to be uplifted in that fight,” Mohamed said.

Black Lives Matter Portland formed last summer, Mohamed said, as a black-led group to stand against the killing of Black people by police officers, after the death of George Floyd last May in Minneapolis.

“We had banded together to stage a protest, some sort of action, and after that, we became a group,” she said. “I don’t think any of us knew that was going to happen, but I’m glad it did, definitely.”

The evolved group now has more than 13,000 followers on Instagram, and in February hosted live-streamed discussion events in honor of Black History Month.

As black people in Maine, Mohamed said, she and her fellow group members know that there are injustices happening every day in the U.S. that are “not as obvious” as the murder of Black people. Racism and oppression in many forms have existed for centuries, she said.

Mohamed said she hopes the mutual aid fund will be able to continue on a long-term basis and be replenished over time.

An online application for the fund asks basic questions about identity and contact information. Mohamed said the group is not requiring applicants to share any “specific narratives” about why the money is needed, and they will be contacting applicants over the next few weeks to verify that each applicant is a real person.

“We want to help those that need assistance, and we also trust that if somebody’s asking for help, that’s it,” she said. “That’s all they need to do is just ask for help.”

There is a space at the bottom of the application where people can specify why they are asking for help if they choose, such as for rent or utility payments. There are specific amounts the group plans to give to single people who inquire for aid, as well as couples and families.

Mohamed also said it is important to her to be as transparent as possible about where the mutual aid funds are going, though applicants’ information will remain confidential.

Ultimately, she said, Black POWER would like people to know that mutual aid can take many forms, and there are enough resources in the community to share with one another.

“We have a responsibility to each other to support each other,” she said. “We need to recognize that there’s so much abundance in the community, and we really want to empower people to understand that.”

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