Celebrating Black Leaders in the Chicago Nonprofit Sector

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

by Aida Kajs

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to take some time to recognize some of the Black leaders who make Chicago’s nonprofits great. These individuals stand out in their efforts to serve the diverse communities that make up our vibrant city. We encourage you to follow the links listed below to learn more about these valuable organizations in Chicago’s philanthropic community.

Jeffery Beckham, Jr., Interim CEO, Chicago Scholars

Raised in Chicago, Beckham has served in leadership at Chicago Scholars for almost three years. Prior to starting at Chicago Scholars, he had an illustrious career in the private and nonprofit sectors.

Cordelia Tullous, Executive Director, Step Up

A lifelong Texan, Tullous serves as an Executive Director of Step Up in both Chicago and Dallas. Before beginning her current role, she had a long career in human resources in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, CEO, Feeding America

Originally from Louisiana, Babineaux-Fontenot brings a rich abundance of leadership experience from the retail industry to law. She has served as the CEO of the Chicago-based hunger-relief organization since 2018.

Helene Gayle, President & CEO, The Chicago Community Trust

Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, Gayle began her time as President and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust in 2017. Prior to beginning her current role, Gayle built a prolific career in the nonprofit and government sectors.

Jahmal Cole, CEO & Founder, My Block, My Hood, My City

Inspired by his experience volunteering as a mentor at the Cook County Juvenile Center, Cole founded My Block, My Hood, My City (M3) in 2013. The youth outreach organization has grown rapidly since then.

Chance the Rapper, Founder, SocialWorks

The Grammy-award winning musician founded this youth empowerment organization in 2016, and has been active in Chicago-area philanthropic endeavors for many years.

Natasha Smith-Walker, Executive Director, Project Exploration

A graduate of Chicago Public Schools, Smith-Walker has served as Executive Director of the Chicago-based science education charity since 2013. Smith-Walker has over 2 decades of experience in the Chicago youth development space.

Monique Jones, President & CEO, Forefront

Before starting as President & CEO of Forefront last month, Jones served as President & CEO of the Evanston Community Foundation. She brings decades of nonprofit leadership experience to the role, and also maintains a private practice as a clinical therapist.

LaSaia Wade, Founder & Executive Director, Brave Space Alliance

Wade is an Afro-Puerto Rican indigenous trans woman with a strong background in organizing and activism. She founded the South Side-based LGBTQ+ center in 2017.

Cheryl Johnson, Executive Director, People for Community Recovery

Johnson originally began working at the environmental justice education organization as an Administrative Assistant. She was later promoted to Project Manager, and then Executive Director, and has been with the organization for over 35 years.

Shelley Davis, President and CEO, The Coleman Foundation

A South Side native, Davis has spent the bulk of her 25-year career in grantmaking at various foundations throughout the Chicago area. Before joining The Coleman Foundation last year, she served as the inaugural president of the Forest Preserve Foundation.

Naomi Davis, Founder, Blacks in Green

Inspired by her childhood in the “walkable-village” of St. Albans, NY, Davis founded the ecologically-driven community development organization in 2007. She has also served on the transition committees for local and state politicians and is an active community advocate in her home neighborhood of Woodlawn.

Kim Hunt, Executive Director, Pride Action Tank

Beginning her career in urban planning, Hunt has devoted much of her career to the Black and LGBTQ communities. Before beginning her role at Pride Action Tank, she served as executive director of Affinity Community Services. She also happens to be one of the amazing mentors for YNPN Chicago’s Leadership Institute program.

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