An ambitious effort to reinvigorate Portland’s Albina District will get a major cash infusion with a $400 million donation to the newly established 1803 Fund from Penny and Phil Knight. 

Phil Knight, the Nike co-founder and philanthropist, joined Rukaiyah Adams, leader of the 1803 Fund, and its board of directors Monday afternoon at the Nike campus in Beaverton to share the news of Rebuild Albina, a multi-faceted effort that will be overseen by the 1803 Fund. The fund was named after York, the only African American member of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

The fund’s board includes Nike CEO John Donahoe and Larry Miller, chairman of Nike’s Michael Jordan brand.

Adams, who previously served as chief investment officer for the Meyer Memorial Trust, said educational services will top the list of investments, followed by efforts to bolster the Albina neighborhoods' “culture and belonging,” as well as projects and initiatives that build a sense of place. 

“We aim to transform the current and future generations of Portland,” Adams said, noting part of the catalyst for Rebuild Albina was “market and government failures” and long-standing educational gaps that nonprofit organizations have often been asked to help remediate.

While specifics around new projects weren’t given, Adams and the 1803 Fund's board of directors said the donation, along with forthcoming private investments, will help bridge educational and community gaps in Albina, a historically Black area of Portland that saw its residents systematically displaced and pushed out by racist housing policies and later, by the construction of the I-5 freeway in Portland.

“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 wellbeing,” Ron Herndon, CEO of Albina Headstart and founder of Portland’s chapter of the Black United Front, said in a news release announcing the $400 million donation. “The Rebuild Albina project hopes to change that trajectory.” Herndon will serve on the 1803 Fund’s board, alongside Tony Hopson, founder and CEO of Self-Enhancement Inc. 

Hopson recalled early support from Nike to Self-Enhancement Inc. The youth-centered nonprofit organization provides academic support and wraparound services primarily for African American kids and teens in Portland. 

“Nike provided T-shirts, tennis shoes, and cash support,” Hopson said. “Over 40 consistent years of support.”

Now, Hopson said, the Knights are carrying on that legacy of support.

John Donahoe (left) and Ron Herndon, 1803 Fund board members 

“We already know what our community needs, but we have never had the capital to address the long-term challenges,” Hopson said.

Phil Knight, who was joined by Hopson and others from the 1803 Fund at the Tiger Woods Center on Nike’s massive campus, recounted decades of partnering with and donating to organizations led by Hopson and Herndon.

“Obviously, I’ve known Ronnie and Tony for a long time,” Knight said. “Over the years that I’ve made contributions to both their organizations … every time I did and we checked on the results, they were truly outstanding. I was really in a fortunate position to be able to do that.”

Knight called Adams a “superstar” who’s used her talent to serve her community.

“When Rukaiyah Adams took the job, she looked me in the eye and said, ‘We will not let you down,’” Knight said.

Adams reiterated that promise again Monday.

Organizations run by Herndon and Hopson benefitted from a share of the profits generated by the Nike retail store in Northeast Portland, before it was shuttered by the company in late 2022 due to reported safety and security concerns. 

Knight said Portland has played an important role in his life and the evolution of Nike.

“Penny and I have long believed in the community of Portland,” Knight noted in a news release about the couple’s $400 million donation. “Some of my most important memories are connected to the Eastside of Portland, including in Lower Albina.”

Knight cited Jefferson High School coaches Bill Sorsby and Doug Basham, who oversaw the track meets of his youth and the “handshake deal with Bill Bowerman” that launched Nike, which took place near the Memorial Coliseum in Lower Albina. 

No firm timelines were given, but Adams said Monday she expects to get “operations up and running in the back half of the year.”