Chicago public health expert works to close racial disparities during pandemic

Chicago's Very Own

CHICAGO With a career spanning more than three decades, Dr. Helene Gayle has dedicated her life’s work to researching and fighting global poverty and disease.

As the CEO of the country’s third-largest community foundation, her skillset and experience in infectious disease and global poverty has helped pull Chicagoans through the COVID-19 pandemic this past year.

“We never think about public health until we need it,” Gayle said.

A public health physician, Dr. Gayle is the CEO of Chicago Community Trust, an organization providing funding and philanthropy to promote positive change.

The trust’s current mission under Gayle’s leadership is to close Chicago’s racial and ethnic wealth gap.

“We recognize that here in Chicago, like so many parts of our nation, Black and Brown people have been left behind and do not have the opportunity to recognize economic potential,” Gayle said.

Dr. Gayle and her team started working on a strategy to increase wealth and encourage investment in Chicago’s neighborhoods when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Then, the city’s economic disparities and struggles were further unearthed.

So Dr. Gayle developed a partnership between United Way and Community Trust to establish the ‘Chicago COVID Relief Fund.’ The funds serve as money to be used immediately while Chicagoans waited for federal dollars.

“We raised $35 million to help communities that were most hard hit by the pandemic, providing food, shelter and cash to pay bills,” Gayle said.

As a former director with the CDC working on HIV/AIDS, she’s no stranger to infectious diseases.

Gayle has also led the international humanitarian organization ‘CARE’, focusing on poverty and empowering young women across the world.

Gayle has also been named one of Forbes’ “100 Most Powerful Women.”

“I think in some ways my two lives have converged. I worked for many years on global poverty, now working here in Chicago on economic equity locally with a 30-year background in public health,” Gayle said.

Dr. Gayle will remain vigilant in her effort to close the city’s racial disparities. Once the pandemic ends, she’s hoping there will be renewed interest in public health funding.

“We need to invest in the things that keep us safe. That will allow us to be resilient when something like this strikes again,” Gayle said.

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