Phil and Penny Knight pledged Monday to contribute $400 million to the new 1803 Fund, a grassroots effort to strengthen Portland’s black community.
The 1803 Fund “will combine elements of private investment and philanthropy to create a fund aimed at helping people thrive and communities thrive.” The fund’s first project – dubbed “Rebuild Albina” – will invest in “education, place, culture and belonging in the neighborhood of Albina.
The investment pairs two powerhouses in Knight, the billionaire co-founder of Nike, and Rukaiyah Adams, Portland’s top financial expert and community leader. Adams chairs the 1803 Fund, which will oversee the Rebuild Albina project.
The idea for a large, ambitious philanthropic effort to help the black community originated with Tony Hopson, CEO of Self Enhancement Inc., and Ron Herndon, founder of the Portland chapter of the Black United Front and CEO of Albina Head Start.
Both have a long-standing relationship with Knight, which for years has been a major donor to SEI and Herndon nonprofits.
The Black Lives Matter protests convinced Hopson that a new, more ambitious community effort was needed to address the issues plaguing the black community. He and Herndon returned to Knight.
But this time they were asking for a much larger sum of money to solve bigger and more complex problems.
“That was a big ask,” Knight said.
The now-retired Knight said he was sold on the idea when Adams agreed to lead the new organization.
“He’s a superstar,” he said.
Adams, a former top investment official at the Meyer Memorial Trust and president of the Oregon Investment Council, also sits on the board of the Albina Vision Trust, which has advanced a proposal to rebuild the historically black neighborhood of Lower Albina.
The neighborhood was shaped by racist housing policies that excluded black Portlanders from living in many other neighborhoods – North Williams Avenue became known as Portland’s “Black Broadway” – and, later, efforts by “ urban renewal” which demolished parts of the neighborhood for construction. from Interstate 5, the Rose Quarter and Legacy Emanuel Medical Center.
Knight said Portland’s east side produced important memories and defining moments in its own life, including track encounters for all on the Jefferson High School track. The legendary handshake between Knight and his college coach Bill Bowerman that was the start of Nike took place near the Memorial Coliseum in the Lower Albina area.
“Penny and I have long believed in the Portland community,” Knight said.
“This investment is unprecedented and has the potential to significantly change the culture and landscape of Portland,” Adams said. “A grassroots effort of this magnitude is unique and has never been done before in Portland – let alone the United States.”
Hopson and Herndon will serve on the 1803 Fund’s board of directors, as will Nike chief executive John Donahoe and Larry Miller, president of Nike’s Michael Jordan brand.
The event was hosted at a studio in Nike’s Tiger Woods building. The company does not contribute to the 1803 Fund.
The fund is named after the year in which Lewis and Clark began their historic journey across the North American continent. A man enslaved by Clark, known only as York, promised he would be freed afterward. York survived the expedition, Adams recounted, but he never gained his freedom.
Adams offered few details about the original fund or project.
“The combination of Phil and Penny’s $400 million investment and the board’s long track record as community and business leaders and social change activists will make this work powerful and lasting,” Adams said. .
“Black people have always been central to Portland’s economic success, but have rarely had access to the benefits and advantages that enable wealth creation and collective well-being,” Herndon said in a statement. “The Rebuild Albina project hopes to change this trajectory.”
Knight said Lower Albina was also at the center of a deal with Herndon and Tony to build the Nike Community Store on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which reinvests a portion of the profits back into the community. The store, however, has been closed for months due to thefts, according to the company.
Nike officials at Monday’s conference declined to comment on the store’s fate.
–Jeff Manning; email@example.com