The head of one of Chicago’s largest foundations is stepping down to be president of Spelman College.
Helene Gayle announced Monday that she is leaving The Chicago Community Trust in June to lead the historically Black women’s college in Atlanta. She said she thought leading the Trust would be her last job but she couldn’t turn down “the opportunity to continue a legacy of shaping the lives of young women of African descent, many of whom have gone on to have illustrious careers.”
Under her leadership, Gayle shifted the foundation’s focus to advancing racial equity and guiding community groups through the pandemic.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Gayle mobilized the foundation’s response within days by managing a COVID-19 relief fund. According to Trust leadership, assets grew from roughly $2.8 billion to $4.7 billion during her tenure. Last year, $1.7 billion in grants were made through the Trust and affiliated donor-advised programs. In addition, the foundation adopted a 10-year strategic plan to address wealth inequity in the region, built a new policy team and changed how it conducted grantmaking.
“We’ve been able to chart a path at the trust focused on the issues of closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap,” Gayle said. She points to coalition building that expanded Illinois’ Earned Income Tax Credit and capped interest rates on payday loans.
Gayle, a public health doctor with disease expertise, joined the Trust in 2017 after leading CARE, an international humanitarian organization. Previously, she spent two decades at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention working on HIV/AIDS.
“Chicago welcomed me so warmly. This was a city that bleeds Chicago and cares about its neighbors. And even though this is a city that is still deeply divided, there really is a sense of deep caring for the city. It’s got an incredible civic footprint, a civic community that pulls together in ways I’ve never seen in any of the cities,” Gayle said.
WBEZ receives funding from The Chicago Community Trust.