As a college student in the 1980s, Calvin Holmes didn't need his minor track in urban studies at Northwestern University to comprehend community blight. He saw it first-hand growing up in East St. Louis, Ill., a five-hour drive south from Chicago. Each trip home, he saw that the unraveling of the city's economic and social tapestry seemed to worsen, as more businesses shuttered, crime escalated and people continued to flee to the suburbs.

The experience helped inspire Holmes to find his calling in community development. Since 1998, he has been president of one of Illinois' most prominent nonprofits, the Chicago Community Loan Fund. A designated community development financial institution, or CDFI, it has placed more than $1 billion in public- and private-sector capital into 60 low-income neighborhoods—including 6,700 affordable housing units and small-business support that has helped add more than 2,000 jobs to hard-hit portions of the Chicago area.

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