Local politicians are celebrating the news that Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife Penny have pledged $400 million to support Black Portlanders. The investment, flowing through a new initiative called the 1803 Fund, is meant to directly aid Black Portlanders in a part of town with a long history of government neglect — the inner North and Northeast Portland neighborhoods once known as Albina.
Multnomah County Chair Jessica Vega Pederson called the work by the Black-led 1803 Fund that landed the Knights’ donation “bold and visionary” with its goal to restore some of the harm “created by generations of policies and actions.”
“It also expands opportunities for the Black community to self-determine a future where the entire community can thrive,” Vega Pederson said.
The historic Albina neighborhood was once the hub of Black commerce and community in Portland. Yet decades of government-led urban renewal projects, like the construction of the Memorial Coliseum and Legacy Emanuel Hospital, paired with years of housing discrimination and gentrification forced many Black residents to leave.
The 1803 Fund was created to help investors rebuild some of the economic prosperity and community spaces the Albina district has lost. The initiative will focus its funding on youth education services, art programs and other projects that support Black Portlanders. The Knights are the first major investors in the fund, which is intended to attract more investors.
The 1803 Fund was created by Rukaiyah Adams, the former investment chief of Meyer Memorial Trust and founding board member of the Albina Vision Trust. (Adams also chairs OPB’s board of directors). At a Monday press event, Adams said that the investment fund will address government shortfalls.
“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. That’s why it hasn’t been fixed.”
Government leaders are grateful for the help.
“I deeply appreciate and support this significant investment from Phil and Penny Knight in uplifting Portland’s historically Black Albina neighborhood,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said. “I hope this investment allows Albina to thrive with business and employment opportunities, affordable housing, and a rich cultural scene.”
Wheeler said he wants the city to collaborate with the 1803 Fund but didn’t elaborate on what that partnership would look like. Three other city commissioners echoed Wheeler’s support of the hefty investment. Commissioner Rene Gonzalez did not respond to a request for comment.
In a tweet, Gov. Tina Kotek called the investment “transformative.”
Metro President Lynn Peterson and other regional leaders have a history of working with Adams through her leadership at Albina Vision Trust, a nonprofit focused on supporting economic development in the Albina area. In 2019, Albina Vision Trust laid out a plan to incorporate the region’s expansion of Interstate-5 through the Rose Quarter with a larger goal of building more affordable housing and community spaces in Albina. This proposal had Peterson’s quick support.
On Tuesday, Peterson called the new investment in Albina a “huge step forward.”
“This speaks to the leadership of Rukaiyah Adams and the other community leaders who have worked so hard to make this investment in Portland and our region,” Peterson said. “I’m also hopeful that this is another piece of the puzzle in keeping the Trail Blazers in Portland, bringing the WNBA to our city and building a community around the Rose Quarter that can be a place to live, work and play for all Oregonians.”
That sentiment isn’t lost on Knight. Knight’s investment comes nearly a year after he and Los Angeles Dodgers part-owner Alan Smolinisky offered to purchase the Trail Blazers for $2 billion. Their offer was rejected by the current owner Jody Allen.
Editor’s note: OPB is an independent nonprofit organization, governed by a board of directors that is currently comprised of 20 voting members. Adams has served on the board since 2015 and is currently its chair. The board has no role in editorial decisions at OPB.