Dr. Helene Gayle on Our Moment in Time

Dr. Helene Gayle courtesy of the Chicago Tribune

Dr. Helen Gayle is the CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, one of the nation’s leading community foundations. The Trust works with donors, nonprofits, community leaders, and residents to lead and inspire philanthropic efforts that improve the quality of life for the residents of the Chicago region.

For 30 years Dr. Gayle was one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases leading global efforts at the CDC, then the Gates Foundation, and finally at Care International.

In the late 1980s when it became clear that HIV was going to be a defining issue, Gayle dove in and learned more. She realized “The interface between scientific and social dynamics wasn’t distributed randomly”

About the current pandemic, Gayle notes a similar disproportionate impact on low-income populations. She notes that public health is about 85% about modifiable conditions and 15% health care

Dr. Gayle’s global to local story gives her a unique perspective on issues of race and class–and set the stage for the Trust’s attack on racial and ethnic wealth gap.

Attacking the wealth gap in Chicago

As you travel from downtown 30 minutes south, life expectancy plummets by 30 years. The root cause is a masseuse wealth gap. African Americans have, on average, a tenth of the family wealth of white families. “It’s a staggering wealth gap, so from a social justice standpoint, we felt it was an important thing to address,” explained Gayle.

The Black and Latinx population make up about two-thirds of the Chicago population, so it’s an economic issue as well.

Gayle explained the three-part strategy to attack the wealth gap:

  1. Build household wealth through entrepreneurship and debt reduction;
  2. Drive investment, both public and private,  in neighborhoods to stimulate growth; and
  3. Help develop community power and activism.

In a recent reflection on our moment in time, Gayle said, “We need to lift up practices and policies that ensure safety, fairness, and justice for all of our people. That includes changing the culture of policing, including zero tolerance for police brutality, assuring that equitable access to health services and education are treated as rights, not privileges, and investing in policies and practices that will close the racial and ethnic wealth gap.

Key Takeaways:
[1:57] Dr. Gayle speaks about her career journey and why she decided to transition from pediatrics to public health.
[4:18] About Dr. Gayle’s incredible 30-year career in public health.
[8:37] Dr. Gayle’s thoughts and predictions on COVID-19.
[10:20] Dr. Gayle elaborates on how we’ve done as a country dealing with COVID-19.
[11:56] About three years ago, Dr. Gayle became the CEO of the Chicago Community Trust. She explains what it is and why the role interested her.
[16:28] How Dr. Gayle is taking on the equity and wealth gap in Chicago through the Chicago Community Trust.
[21:47] How COVID-19 has actually amplified Chicago Community Trust’s message and mission.
[23:08] The link to education in Chicago Community Trust’s plan and Dr. Gayle’s thoughts on what would help improve the quality of and access to education in Chicago.
[25:23] How Dr. Gayle’s experience and training in public health have shaped her approach in tackling the root cause.
[26:40] Dr. Gayle’s thoughts on the guidelines schools should follow in reopening.
[28:01] Dr. Gayle’s advice for investors and policymakers at the state and local level.
[30:23] Tom thanks Dr. Gayle for her 30-year contribution to public health, for transforming opportunity in Chicago, and for joining the podcast!

Mentioned in This Episode:
Dr. Helene Gayle
Chicago Community Trust
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
CARE International
Getting Smart Podcast Ep. 253: “Lia McIntosh on Community Development”

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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