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Phil Knight donates $400 million to rebuild Portland’s black community.

By Rachel Bachman    – On Monday, Mr. Knight and his wife, Penny, are set to announce they’re donating $400 million to rebuild Portland’s Albina area, a historically Black community whose residents have experienced decades of disruption and displacement.

Rebuild Albina will be a project of the newly established 1803 Fund, a nonprofit that aims to combine elements of private investing and philanthropy. The number references the year that explorers Lewis & Clark decided to bring York, a Black frontiersman and slave, with them across the country to the Pacific.

Mr. Knight’s donation arrives against the backdrop of a city he says is in crisis. Portland, for decades a quirky, outdoorsy boomtown, in recent years has been beset with public drug use, chronic homelessness, a spike in crime and drop in population.

“I think it can lift the community and it can give the whole city hope,” Mr. Knight said in an interview about his initiative. “That’s the ambition.”

Mr. Knight has voiced increasing concern about his home state’s largest city. Last year he donated several million dollars to two candidates opposing Democrat Tina Kotek, in a race that some thought would see Oregon elect its first Republican governor in decades. Ms. Kotek won.

The idea for Rebuild Albina came from conversations a few years ago with two men Mr. Knight called “tireless, selfless workers for the community.” Ron Herndon has led the Albina Head Start program for nearly half a century. Tony Hopson is founder and CEO of Self-Enhancement Inc., an area organization that provides families with education and social services.

Mr. Knight said he had given each man a few million dollars over the decades to further their work, and was impressed with how they used it.

“You just think, with a little more money, how many great things they could do,” Mr. Knight said. “That’s really kind of what my mind-set is.”

Messrs. Hopson and Herndon will sit on the board of the 1803 Fund, along with Nike CEO John Donahoe and Nike Jordan Brand chairman Larry Miller.

The 1803 Fund’s CEO is Rukaiyah Adams, a Stanford M.B.A. and Law graduate who grew up in Northeast Portland. Ms. Adams said organizers are still working through details of how the fund will operate. She said she aims to raise more money, but also to be results-driven.

“I ran big investment funds,” said Ms. Adams, 49, a former mergers and acquisitions lawyer who previously led the $6.5 billion capital markets fund at The Standard. “So, I think, judging by who Phil is choosing and the team is choosing to lead the organization, I think that’s telling you something about what we expect the magnitude of it to be—and the tone, which is: This isn’t charity, we’re investing.”

The Albina area, a section of inner North and Northeast Portland, has been the heart of Portland’s Black community for more than a century.

Discriminatory real estate and lending practices in the early 20th Century steered many Black residents into the small, economically depressed area, but over decades they built businesses and a community there, according to a historical account on the city’s website.

Federal legislation in the mid-20th century encouraged cities to redevelop areas seen as blighted, and hundreds of homes in Central Albina were razed to create space for the Memorial Coliseum—the first home of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers—as well as Interstate 5 and a hospital expansion. Many promised replacement housing units never materialized and thousands of residents were displaced, the city account says.

Ms. Adams said Rebuild Albina’s work, which will focus on areas ranging from education and housing to art, will include people who no longer live in the area but send their children to schools there and still visit its institutions.

Mr. Knight, 85 years old and still Nike’s largest shareholder, and his family are worth an estimated $47.2 billion, according to Bloomberg. Phil and Penny Knight have become perhaps the state of Oregon’s best-known philanthropists and some of the most prominent in the nation.

Their donations to the University of Oregon have funded professorships, expanded the main library and built numerous lavish sports facilities. The Knights have given $1 billion in the past seven years alone to launch and expand the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.

They have given $500 million to cancer research at Portland-based Oregon Health & Science University. Mr. Knight also has given hundreds of millions to Stanford University, where he earned an M.B.A. in 1962.

Write to Rachel Bachman at

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