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The head of one of Chicago’s largest foundations is stepping down as president of Spelman College.

Helene Gayle announced Monday that she is leaving the Chicago Community Trust in June to head up the historically black women’s college in Atlanta. She said she thought running the trust would be her last job but she “could not turn down an 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 justice and guiding community groups through the pandemic.

When the 2020 pandemic hit, within days Gayle mobilized the foundation’s response by managing a COVID-19 relief fund. According to Trust leadership, assets grew from around $2.8 billion to $4.7 billion during her tenure. Last year, $1.7 billion in grants was awarded through the Trust and affiliated donor advisory programs. In addition, the foundation adopted a 10-year strategic plan to address wealth inequality in the region, built a new policy team and changed the way it awarded grants.

“We were able to find a way for the Trust to focus on the issues of closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap,” Gayle said. She points to the coalition building that expanded Illinois’ Earned Income Tax Credit and capped interest rates on payday loans.

Gayle, a public health doctor with expertise in disease, joined the Trust in 2017 after leading CARE, an international humanitarian organization. She previously 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 although this city is still deeply divided, there really is a feeling of deep concern for the city. It has an incredible civic footprint, a civic community that sticks together in a way I’ve never seen in any city,” Gayle said.

WBEZ receives funding from the Chicago Community Trust.

Natalie Moore is a reporter on the Race, Class and Communities desk at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @natalieymoore.