“I try to do with every child I meet what I
try to do with my own children. Be gentle,
be kind, be consistent. Start where they’re
at, not way ahead, not way behind. All children need people to be consistent, and kind.”
– Sue Duncan
The Sue Duncan Children’s Center began in 1961 when Sue Duncan spontaneously began teaching a handful of children to read in a church basement. It immediately blossomed as a supportive and enriching haven designed to motivate the minds of children. Sue’s approach was to support the whole child, fostering academic achievement along with emotional and social well-being. For 50 years, she dedicated her time and personal resources to provide a free educational program in one of Chicago’s most impoverished neighborhoods with the only expectation for accolades being the success of her students. From the early days of her driving through the neighborhood in her blue suburban picking up children block-by-block to take them to the Center, Sue possessed an unwavering commitment to doing whatever it took to help children reach their full potential through education.
Sue Duncan retired in 2011 after 50 years of service. Now well in her 70s, she still attends the Center’s annual Fall Fête fundraiser and can be found passing out gifts to children during the holidays. Even in her retirement, and despite some memory loss, she uses every opportunity to educate children in her presence by reminding them of the importance of giving and showing gratitude when on the receiving end.
Over five decades after its founding, the Sue Duncan Children’s Center has provided top-level academic tutoring and social adjustment to thousands of children. Now under the leadership her son Owen Duncan who spent much of his childhood at the Center, the program continues to thrive and the success of its students has remained consistent with Sue’s high standard of excellence. The Center is also deepening its impact by opening additional campuses in other neighborhoods that will benefit from its time-proven programming and grassroots educational approach. In response to an increased demand for its services, the Center opened a second campus for the first time in its 52 year history in September of 2013 in the Woodlawn neighborhood. A third site is scheduled to open during the 2014-2015 school year in the Englewood neighborhood. Each new campus will duplicate the original model that has effectively served the Oakland neighborhood for over 52 years. See New Communities Project.
Countless alumni, spanning several generations, credit Sue Duncan for their success. Children who have participated in Center programming over the years have gone on to be stand-outs in their respective fields. A few Center alumni include:
- Late film actor Michael Clarke Duncan, nominated for an Academy Award and Golden Globe for his work in The Green Mile.
- Sue’s son, Arne Duncan, who grew up in and was powerfully influenced by her work at the Center, went on to become CEO of Chicago Public Schools and is currently the United States Secretary of Education.
- Nazr Mohammed, NBA player with the Chicago Bulls.
- IBM Fellow Kerrie Holley, only the second African-American among more than 330,000 employees to be awarded the corporation’s highest honor for technologists.
- Dusan Brown made his acting debut in the 2013 movie “42: The Jackie Robinson Story.” His brother Dante Brown starred opposite of Oscar Nominee and Tony Winner Viola Davis in the 2012 film, “Won’t Back Down.”
- Michelle Gordon, national and international award-winning American martial artist.
- Akima White, Assistant Principal at TEAM Englewood Community Academy and currently serving on the board of the Sue Duncan Children’s Center.
- Ron Raglin, Chief of Equity and Social Justice for Elgin Public Schools, former Chicago Public Schools AVID District Director, and currently serving on the board of the Sue Duncan Children’s Center.
- The Center’s current Director of Development, Tina Battle, a 21 year veteran of the nonprofit, philanthropic sector who became an award-winning poet and playwright prodigy following her participation at the Center.