Beyond Black History Month

Black History Month began as Black History Week in the second week of February 1926. Founder Carter Woodson, a Harvard-educated historian, had hoped that by increasing knowledge and awareness of Black history, it would become so deeply embedded in American history that Black History Week (and later Month) would be unnecessary. The celebration’s initial objectives were to demonstrate the important roles Black Americans had played in the country’s creation and their right to be treated equally as citizens, and to increase the visibility of Black life and history at a time when Black people were often the subject of mockery in media and entertainment.

Fifty years later, in 1976, President Gerald Ford proclaimed February Black History Month, and in 1986 Congress officially recognized Black History Month. Today, nearly 100 years after Woodson’s idea first took shape, the struggle continues to establish Black history as essential to the American story.

While February is Black History Month, we at Prosper Portland are committed to learning, being inspired and supporting the local Black community not only this month but throughout the year. Follow our social media channels where we are honoring Black History Month by highlighting local leaders, moments in history, and Black-owned businesses in Portland.

Black organizations that partner with Prosper Portland

Prosper Portland-supported projects

Northeast Alberta Street is home to a series of seven heritage markers depicting the stories of 10 African Americans from Alberta St & NE Portland. An official unveiling of the markers took place on Tuesday, November 5, 2019, celebrating the power of storytelling and the use of that power to create more equitable placemaking. Prosper Portland provided Alberta Main Street with a Community Livability Grant to support the project and pay tribute to the area’s diverse history and the accomplishments of its residents and leaders.

On Monday, August 27, 2012, the celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard Gateway and Heritage Markers marked the fulfillment of a longstanding community goal as well as Prosper Portland’s goals to promote neighborhood livability and economic vitality, create a unique urban space, enhance the cultural assets of Portland’s distinctive neighborhoods, and celebrate the diverse cultural character of the North/ Northeast neighborhoods.

The Williams & Russell project is a collaborative effort between a community-based Williams & Russell Project Working Group (PWG), Prosper Portland, Legacy Health and the City of Portland. The project involves Legacy Health returning to the community a 1.7-acre vacant block at North Russell Street and North Williams Avenue. Historically, the site once was part of a thriving community that housed the majority of African Americans in Portland and Oregon. Institutional racism made it illegal and difficult to own land as a minority, and with few options beyond the least desirable areas of Portland, African Americans primarily settled in the northeast quadrant of the city. Given the area’s long-standing history of African American residents and businesses, the City of Portland, Prosper Portland and Legacy Health decided early on that the property should be returned to the community and that its development would be a community-led project with significant community outreach. The community-elected Project Working Group (PWG) was established to define and drive a community-centered visioning and development process.

The N/NE Portland Community Development Initiative, established by Prosper Portland and guided by an advisory committee, developed an Action Plan to guide the investment of $32 million in tax increment funds (TIF) in the Interstate Corridor TIF District for economic and redevelopment purposes.

The Vanport development has taken place over the course of more than 20 years, delivering both commercial and residential projects and providing many lessons in the process. Situated on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, the site was long identified as a critical focal point for the area’s economic revitalization, but efforts to redevelop this vacant property over a decade had been unsuccessful. Beginning in 1997, Prosper Portland assembled close to two full blocks between NE Alberta and NE Sumner and between Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. and Garfield, following the goals in the Albina Community Plan to revive commerce on NE Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. by fostering the development of strong commercial nodes at key intersections. The project was developed in phases. The first phase project is the 40,000 square foot Vanport Square commercial condominiums (focused on independent retail and small business ownership opportunities), which was completed in in 2008. The 40,000 square foot, mixed-use development was developed by Jeana Woolley. It includes office, retail and restaurant space targeted specifically for the relocation and expansion of locally owned small businesses. The development offers a diverse mix of services to the neighborhood. The total project cost was $12+ million, with over 50% of the resources from Interstate Tax Increment Financing ($6.8 million). This was combined with other resources including New Markets Tax Credits and private financing which enabled the unique business condominium structure.

In 2011, the Portland Alumnae Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and the Piedmont Rose Connection, Inc. celebrated the grand opening of the June Key Delta Community Center at 5940 North Albina Avenue (on the corner of N. Albina Avenue and N. Ainsworth Street). The Center redevelopment is a former gas station and brownfield that has been transformed into a Living Building demonstration project. The sorority augmented its own investment in the construction costs with a Tax Increment Financing Commercial Property Redevelopment loan and Storefront Improvement and Community Livability grants from Prosper Portland to renovate and expand the existing building into a community center with a meeting hall, display space, kitchen and accessible rest rooms. The construction was mostly performed by a local minority-owned general contractor and augmented by significant contributions of labor from local trade unions and nonprofits that provide pre-apprenticeship training in the construction trades.

The renovation of Dawson Park completed in 2014 involved both Prosper Portland and Portland’s Parks & Recreation. TIF provided $2.3 million in funding of the renovation $2.7 million project costs with remaining support from Portland Parks Foundation, Portland Parks & Recreation and Legacy Emanuel Medical Center for the water play feature. Learn more.

In 2016, Prosper Portland provided a $495,000 TIF loan plus approximately $100,000 of additional grant funds to Self Enhancement Inc. for the purpose of purchasing and converting this historic Gordly family home at 4511 N. Williams Avenue into an African American Cultural Center. These resources provided acquisition funding as well as support during the holding period and with pre-development work.

The Beatrice Morrow development is an affordable housing project located on the site formerly known as the Grant Warehouse site. In fall 2015, the Portland Housing Bureau selected Portland Community Reinvestment Initiatives, Inc. (PCRI) and Gerding Edlen in partnership with Colas Construction and Carleton Hart Architects to redevelop the site at NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. between Cook and Ivy Streets. The project offers 70 affordable units as well as community-serving commercial space. The project received $7.35 million of set-aside Tax Increment Financing with the units affordable to households earning at or below 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI).

Alberta Commons is on the block south of Vanport Square. This project is an urban retail shopping center consisting of approximately 20,000 square feet of gross leasable space on the MLK/Alberta commercial lot. The development process benefited from input from a Project Working Group, which was convened to advise on the site design and community benefits. This resulted in a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) which specifically called for diverse hiring and contracting requirements, public art, a hiring plan with local workforce agencies for Natural Grocer employees, and small business economic opportunities for African Americans and other communities of color as well as displaced individuals. Prosper Portland Tax Increment Financing helped the 5,000 square feet of retail space in the project remain affordable to small businesses, particularly minorities and local businesses. The finished project includes Natural Grocers (a quality, affordable, organic grocery retail chain) as the anchor tenant and provides affordable commercial space to Champions Barbershop, Cason’s Fine Meats, and greenHAUS gallery + boutique.

Over several years, Prosper Portland has played a key role in assisting the Sons of Haiti Lodge on N Mississippi and Fremont in NE Portland, most recently through a Community Livability Grant of $125,000 from TIF funds. With help from Prosper Portland, local businesses and neighbors, the Lodge broke ground in late January 2016 on improvements for a proposed food cart site to generate revenue to assist with building improvements. The project’s aim is to stabilize one of the last black-owned businesses on Mississippi Avenue, a historically African American faction of the Freemason fraternity. The community celebrated the opening of the food carts in June 2016. Construction is now underway at the property, which will ultimately create space for the meeting lodge, kids’ karate classes and other services.

Support Black-owned businesses

Visit the Mercatus Black-owned business guide for a showcase of Black-owned businesses in Portland.

Mercatus Black Odyssey

Image courtesy of Mercatus

Technical Support opportunities and grants

Prosper Portland’s Equity Statement makes it clear that racial equity is the foundation of our community and economic development work.

We have positioned key programs and initiated new approaches specifically focused on meeting the needs of diverse Portlanders. In particular, Prosper Portland offers small business loans and grants that strive to address access to capital issues faced by underrepresented populations including businesses owned by women and people of color.

Our Equity Statement

We acknowledge our past as we move forward to create economic opportunity and prosperity for all communities. We make racial equity the foundation of our community and economic development work. We hold ourselves accountable to Portland’s communities of color and others our work has negatively impacted. While racial equity is the primary lens to focus our efforts, we understand the connection between racism and other forms of bias that lead to oppression.

Within our workplace and working with our partners, we embrace values of authentic inclusion, transparency, and collaboration.

We work toward nothing less than an anti-racist Portland that welcomes and serves all communities and perspectives. We encourage our partners to do the same.

Historical & present information about Portland’s Black community