“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.” – Sue Duncan
The Sue Duncan Children’s Center is much more than another after-school program. Although not as well-known as some of the larger organizations with similar missions, its track record for transforming the lives of children and families with minimal resources has been legendary. The Center began in 1961 when Sue Duncan spontaneously began teaching a handful of young girls to read in a church basement. It immediately blossomed as a free educational and recreational program designed to motivate the minds of children. The idea was to provide a supportive and enriching haven where children would be cherished and nurtured – a place where they could find the support they needed to prepare themselves to become successful adults. For over five decades now, the Center has been quietly transforming lives with the only expectation for accolades being the success of its students.
Children who have participated in Center programming over the years have gone on to be stand-outs in their respective fields. A few of the alumni who credit the Center for being a turning point in their lives 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 50 years after its founding, the Center has provided top-level academic tutoring and social adjustment to thousands of children spanning over three generations. 2011 was the first year of retirement for the Center’s founder, Sue Duncan. Under the leadership of her son, Owen Duncan, the Center continues to thrive and the success of its students has remained consistent with the Center’s standard of excellence.