Growing up in East St. Louis, Calvin L. Holmes watched his mother and grandmother discuss site plans and blueprints at the dinner table. They both worked for Model Cities, a federal redevelopment program in East St. Louis. “I got into the spirit of stabilizing communities and being a partner in rejuvenation through osmosis,” recalls Holmes, who is president of the Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF).
In his more than 20 years at the helm, Holmes has guided the nonprofit to lend more than $1 billion, reaching more than 70 low-wealth Chicago-area communities and providing funding for affordable housing, commercial real estate, community spaces and social enterprise.
To combat hardship resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the fund teamed up with state and local governments to provide emergency grants and loans to businesses in need. CCLF also provided grants to city businesses affected by the unrest following the murder of George Floyd.
Holmes, who majored in African American studies at Northwestern, sees CCLF as helping to address the problems created and sustained by structural racism. “There are contemporary practices that financial institutions execute, whether intentional or not, that have a de facto redlining impact,” he says. “If you’re running a family business and coming from a minority community, you may be the first of your kind. If you don’t have a track record to stand on, traditional lenders often aren’t willing to take that risk.”
While its influence has been significant, CCLF can’t strengthen communities on its own, Holmes says. “We don’t think of ourselves as Hercules able to lift the boulder on our shoulders alone. We have to do it in concert, and we all need to be passionate and fierce about this work.”