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 meant to fund education services, art programs and other projects for Black Portlanders in the inner North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods once known as Albina.
Albina was the center of Black society and business in the early 1900s, but by the 1960s communities it had been decimated after city-backed urban renewal projects leveled homes and community hubs. These construction projects, which built spaces like the Memorial Coliseum, Legacy Emanuel Hospital, the Moda Center and a stretch of Interstate 5, cratered Albina’s Black population. The community, which is now represented by Eliot, Boise, Humboldt, Overlook and Piedmont neighborhoods, was further harmed by the decades of gentrification that followed these projects.
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 investment chief of Meyer Memorial Trust and founding board member of the Albina Vision Trust, a nonprofit with a similar focus on economic investment in the historic Albina neighborhood. (Adams also chairs OPB’s board of directors). The Albina Vision Trust is perhaps best known for its work advocating for Black Portlanders via the massive project to expand Interstate 5 through the Rose Quarter.
In a press release, Adams called Knight’s investment “unparalleled.”
“[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’s 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 on how the fund will work,” Adams said. “But we do 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 Eastside of Portland,” Knight said in a press release. Knight said the “handshake deal” that launched Nike took place near the Memorial Coliseum. Knight also partnered with Black leaders in the 1980s to open the Nike Community Store, a shop which gives some of its profits back to neighborhood nonprofits. The store has been shuttered since November 2022 due to retail theft concerns.
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 purchase the Portland Trail Blazers, who call the Moda Center home. Jody Allen, the chair of the Portland Trail Blazers and the trustee of the Paul G. Allen Trust, said last summer that the franchise wasn’t 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 to be. Hopson said he spoke with Knight after learning about Nike’s $40 million donation to Black community organizations nationwide in June 2020.
“I found the courage to ask Phil would he and Penny personally consider a much larger gift that could not only make a difference, but could 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 will not 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 coming together to give the city and community this opportunity.”
The 1803 Fund’s board of directors is made up of longtime Black leaders in Portland, including Hopson, Ron Herndon, CEO of Albina Head Start, and Larry Miller, former Trail Blazers executive and chair of Nike’s Michael Jordan brand.
Several board members who spoke 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 remediate some of those problems… that’s tough work. We’re stepping right into some of the most challenging parts of our civic life.”
The 1803 Fund’s name signifies the year in which a Black enslaved man named York was assigned to join the Lewis and Clark expedition to Oregon territory. The fund’s website notes: “We are inspired by [York’s] optimism as he imagined this landscape, so full of promise for a new Black future.”
Editor’s note: OPB is an independent nonprofit organization, governed by a board of directors that is currently comprised of 20 voting members. Rukaiyah Adams has served on the board since 2015 and is currently its chair. The board has no role in editorial decisions at OPB.