February is Black History Month: Celebrating Portland’s Black Business Leaders

With the events of the last half a year or so, America has had to take a long, hard look in the mirror. The shooting of George Floyd and events that followed highlight centuries-old problems and inequalities in the United States that have remained unresolved, and in many cases largely ignored. 

With the nation-wide police brutality protests this past summer and the continued rise of the BLM movement, brands can no longer play a passive role in the inequalities facing Black Americans. Many brands have taken this as an opportunity to do serious internal work, making public their goals to increase DEI efforts throughout their companies, especially in roles with particular impact: leadership positions. 

The theme for this year’s Black History Month is Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity. As a small marketing agency located in Portland, Oregon (a city that is time and time again found to be one of the whitest cities in America), we want to focus our attention this month on appreciating Black leaders here in the city of roses. 

In the spirit of this year’s theme, we’re focusing on the representation aspect and celebrating five Black Portlanders working in marketing, branding, and business from companies big and small, who are making an impact in leadership, despite the obstacles they have faced–and continue to face–in a country and city where racial inequity is so deeply ingrained. 

But first, NMG’s own, Rubyjoy Pikes, shares her take on the background of Black History Month and reflects on her own experience as a Black woman

“Black History Month was started by Carter G. Woodson in 1925 to raise awareness of what Black citizens were bringing to society. Black History Month is a time to reflect on the state of racial equality for African Americans in the world, but it is also a time to celebrate the work, accomplishments, beauty, and resilience of Black people. I celebrate Black History Month every day. As a Black woman, I make a point of celebrating my people year-round. This is included but is not limited to Black History Month.”

Melanie Harris, Nike, VP Strategy & Development

After receiving an undergraduate degree from Yale and an MBA from Harvard Business School, Harris went on to hold a number of influential roles in the retail space with brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Macy’s. She then went on to be a partner with the agency Bain & Company and now sits on Nike’s executive team as the only BIPOC woman represented. 

At the end of her time at HBS, as part of their Portrait Project series, Harris was asked, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Her answer: “If you must keep score, ask how much love I have in my life. At the end, that is all that matters for me. It is the gauge by which I measure my success: how much love have I delivered, and how much have I allowed myself to receive.”

Bertony Faustin, Abbey Creek Vineyard, Owner

Faustin, born in Brooklyn, NY to Haitian immigrants, is thought to be the first Black winemaker (on record) in Oregon’s history. According to Abbey Creek Vineyard’s website, which has been featured in numerous local publications, Faustin is “a farmer first” and prides himself on his involvement in the entire winemaking process. 

As a leader in the industry, and one of the few Black winemakers in the region and country at large, he produced a documentary about his own experience and the experiences of other Black winemakers in an industry with so many barriers to success, “Red, White & Black.”

Jonathan Riley, Blaq Athlete, Co-Founder

Riley, who is also the Founder and CEO of Better, a Portland marketing firm, was featured in The Portland Business Journal’s 2020 40 Under 40 list for his creation of and work with Blaq Athlete – a project that contributes to creating more accepting community spaces for Black Portlanders. 

After attending Oregon State University as a business major and student-athlete, Riley recognized a need in Oregon and founded his business as a safe and supportive place for Black athletes, many of whom feel exploited in the world of athletics, and in particular college athletics. 

According to the Blaq Athlete website, they focus on creating “self-identifying programs that strategically provide industry access, culturally specific resources, development workshops, and impactful experiences.”

Ian Williams, Deadstock Coffee, Owner

Deadstock Coffee is one of the most well-known Black-owned businesses in Portland, and as a result, Williams is one of the most well-known Black Portlanders in the local coffee scene. 

Portland is a city known for its coffee culture, but Williams seeks to make a comfortable and inviting space for visitors that veers away from Portland’s pretentious coffee model. 

After working his way up from seasonal retail employee to shoe designer at Nike, Williams sought to combine his many loves together for Deadstock: a sneaker themed, inclusive coffee shop. The cafe also features local artists and is a favorite among designers in the area for work and leisure as Williams continues to provide an accepting and welcoming space.

Monique Allen, ACMS Northwest, President 

There is already a lack of representation of women in construction, let alone women of color in construction, and especially women of color in leadership positions in construction. For that reason, Allen’s role of President at ACMS Northwest, a provider of “professional construction management, inspection, and engineering services to municipal, government, and private clients” (according to their website), is incredibly noteworthy. 

Allen was also recognized in 2020 as a 40 under 40 recipient for her leadership in this male-dominated space. With her experience in Marketing, Emergency Management, and Public Outreach and Information, Allen oversees much of the company’s inner working and outward image. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just a feature of some of the Black leaders in the Portland metro area who are making noteworthy moves that we’re paying attention to. 

This Black History Month, we must all continue to celebrate and appreciate Black leaders in our communities so that they can continue to inspire more and more Black representation in leadership positions, increasing visibility and equity in Portland and the business world at large. 

Here at Newbridge Marketing Group, we’re celebrating by honoring our Black employees and student ambassadors, as we continue to strive for greater representation and inclusivity on our team, within our programs for brand partners, and in our student research initiatives. 

Happy Black History Month!