“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, Sue dedicated her time and personal resources to provide a free educational and recreational program on Chicago’s south side. She created a safe-haven in one of Chicago’s most impoverished neighborhoods with the only expectation for accolades being the success of her students. Sue instilled a love of learning and sparked an intellectual curiosity that transformed the lives of thousands of children and families spanning three generations.
Since 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 has had an unwavering commitment to doing whatever it takes to help children reach their full potential through education. Even in her retirement, and despite some memory loss, Sue can be found at the Center passing out gifts to children during the holidays. She still does not hesitate to remind each child of the importance of giving and showing gratitude when on the receiving end. Now well in her 70s, using every opportunity to educate a child in her presence has been Sue’s life’s work.
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.
- Ron Raglin, Chief of Equity and Social Justice for Elgin Public Schools and former Chicago Public Schools AVID District Director.
- 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.
Over five decades after its founding, the Center has provided top-level academic tutoring and social adjustment to thousands of children thanks to Sue’s vision and commitment. Now under the leadership of 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.