Phil Knight, the billionaire co-founder of Nike, is contributing $400 million to a new investment fund to support black residents of Portland.
The gift from Knight and his wife Penny Knight to the 1803 Fund — an initiative revealed Monday — is intended to fund educational services, arts programs and other projects for Black Portlanders in the inner North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods once known as Albina.
Albina was the center of the black community and business in the early 1900s, but by the 1960s it had been decimated after city-sponsored urban renewal projects leveled homes and community hubs. These construction projects, which built spaces like Memorial Coliseum, Legacy Emanuel Hospital, the Moda Center and a stretch of Interstate 5, created Albina’s black population. The community, now represented by the Eliot, Boise, Humboldt, Overlook, and Piedmont neighborhoods, was further damaged by the decades of gentrification that followed these projects.
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The 1803 Fund intends to repair some of this damage by investing in programs that support Black Portlanders. The fund was created by Rukaiyah Adams, the former chief investment officer of the Meyer Memorial Trust and founding board member of the Albina Vision Trust, a non-profit organization with a similar focus on economic investment in the historic Albina area. (Adams also chairs OPB’s board). The Albina Vision Trust is perhaps best known for its work to advance Black Portlanders via the massive project to widen Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter.
In a press release, Adams called Knight’s investment “unprecedented.”
“[It] has the potential to significantly change the culture and landscape of Portland,” Adams said. “A place-based effort of this magnitude is unique and has never been done before in Portland — let alone the United States.”
It is not yet clear how this investment will be distributed or to which community organizations.
At a Monday press event at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Adams promised more answers in the coming months.
“Today we’re focusing on Phil’s commitment to the fund, we don’t have all the details of how the fund will work,” Adams said. “But we know the three areas it will focus on: education, place and culture, and belonging.”
The Knights are Oregon’s wealthiest residents and have a long history of making significant contributions to academic institutions. Phil Knight has a history of giving to Republican politicians in the state. He said his investment in the 1803 fund reflects his personal relationship with Northeast Portland.
“Some of my most important memories are connected to the east side of Portland,” Knight said in a news release. Knight said the “handshake deal” that launched Nike took place near Memorial Coliseum. Knight also partnered with Black leaders in the 1980s to open the Nike Community Store, a store that gives some of its profits back to neighborhood nonprofits. The store has been closed since November 2022 due to concerns about retail theft.
Knight has another interest in the neighborhood: Last June, he partnered with Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Alan Smolinisky to make a $2 billion offer to buy the Portland Trail Blazers, who call the Moda Center home. Jody Allen, chairman of the Portland Trail Blazers and a trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust, said last summer that the franchise was not for sale.
At Monday’s event, Tony Hopson Sr., founder and CEO of Black Youth Advocacy nonprofit Self-Enhancement Inc., explained how Knight’s investment came about. Hopson said he spoke with Knight after learning of Nike’s $40 million donation to black community organizations across the country in June 2020.
“I found the courage to ask Phil if he and Penny would personally consider a much larger gift that could not only make a difference, but potentially make the difference in Portland’s black community,” Hopson said. “Obviously he didn’t say no.”
Hopson then introduced Knight to Adams.
“She looked me in the eye and said, ‘We won’t let you down,'” Knight said. – And I really believe that.
Knight said that, with the partnership of community leaders like Adams and Hopson, “we have a unique set of circumstances that come together to give the city and the community this opportunity.”
The 1803 Fund’s board consists of longtime Black leaders in Portland, including Hopson, Ron Herndon, executive director of Albina Head Start, and Larry Miller, former Trail Blazers executive and chairman of Nike’s Michael Jordan brand.
Several board members who spoke on Monday characterized the fund’s mission to rebuild Albina as a challenge. Adams pointed to the state of the economy and education systems to explain why.
“We have market and government failures in education that we cannot deny,” Adams said. “Asking us to help remedy some of these problems… it’s tough work. We are going straight into some of the most challenging parts of our social life.”
The 1803 fund’s name indicates the year a black enslaved man named York was assigned to join the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Oregon Territory. On the fund’s website it says: “We are inspired by [York’s] optimism when he envisioned this landscape, so full of promise for a new black future.”
Editor’s note: OPB is an independent non-profit organisation, governed by a board which currently consists of 20 voting members. Rukaiyah Adams has been on the board since 2015 and is currently chairman. The board has no role in editorial decisions at OPB.