The first Black woman to lead the Chicago Community Trust, Dr. Helene Gayle, will leave her role in June to serve as president of Spelman College in Atlanta.
Gayle served as president and CEO of the trust for the last five years, leading one of the nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, which awards millions of dollars in grants to local nonprofits every year.
“This was really, probably my hardest career decision ever,” said Gayle. “When I was asked whether I would consider leading this iconic institution, it was hard not to take that seriously and for me, at the end of a very long career, to be able to feel like I can give back to the next generation and particularly to the next generation of Black women who are change makers and leaders and who really want to make a difference in the world, I just felt like it was kind of a unique opportunity at a time where I think there’s a greater appreciation for the role of historically Black colleges and universities than ever before.”
Under Gayle’s leadership, the Chicago Community Trust shifted its strategic focus to close the racial and ethnic wealth gap in Chicago.
“We made, actually, wealth inequality our priority because we recognize, first of all, it’s the right and the fair thing to do,” said Gayle. “But we also recognize that in a region that is two-thirds Black and Brown, the region can’t move forward unless we really think about how do we make sure that those who have been left out of economic opportunity have that opportunity to succeed. It’s going to make a difference for those communities and for those households and those individuals, but it’s also going to make a big difference for our whole region.”
Part of Gayle’s tenure took place during the pandemic, which exposed or highlighted already existing inequities in health care. Gayle says her experience as a public health physician helped her navigate the situation.
“I really felt like in many ways I was at the right place at the right time, because not only could we focus on the issues of economic inequity, but also on health inequity, and the two very much go hand in hand,” Gayle said.
Gayle is the first woman and second person of color to lead the Chicago Community Trust, a 107-year-old foundation.