What better way to learn why the Sue Duncan Children’s Center exists than to hear to the voices of its children? Every year, the Center invites its students, third grade and above, to contribute a fiction or non-fiction story to create a compilation. The Center’s 2013 Writing Project, titled Reflections, is published and available for purchase online.
Here is the introduction, written by Executive Director Owen Duncan:
What does a child need to succeed in America?
When asked this question, most people answer, “Education.” Others think about opportunity; some go to motivation or ambition. We might dig a little deeper, think of a combination of all-the-above, with involved parents, positive role models, and strong self-control thrown in. All true, of course, but being a culture uncomfortable with discussions of class, few would answer, “Being born with the right socioeconomic status.”
We as humans take our image from what is closest to us; we identify with those we see as like us. In short, we reflect our environments. Few would dispute that the most reliable predictor of children being well educated and affluent—with exceptions, of course—is having well educated, affluent parents. We all know that the children of addicts are more prone to substance abuse, the children of convicts are more likely to face incarceration, and the children of the poor are less likely to have the education, opportunity and motivation to succeed.
There are of course notable exceptions.
We at the Center are in the business of producing those exceptions, of keeping America’s dream of upward mobility alive. We are deeply proud of what our children accomplish against such odds. We have more Center attendees in college now than at any other time in our history. We have more high schoolers than ever, and they attend Chicago’s top schools: Jones, Lindblom, St. Ignatius, Muchin, Kenwood, Perspectives, UIC Charter, De La Salle, Young Women’s Leadership, King College Prep. For years now, every single one of them has graduated, a figure nearly double that of their peers.
To say that this is beating the odds is redundant. But if I told you all I know about what those 16 or 17-year-olds have lived through to get to this point, you’d hardly believe me. I’ll say just this: we have children on their third and fourth set of guardians, children with fathers in jail, children with mothers in jail, children who have never had a member of their immediate family go to college. So how do we accomplish this? I’ll puncture the myth right away. We don’t.
All we do is provide something like the level of emotional support, educational enhancement, high expectations and—most importantly—faith in them that a child of well educated, affluent parents can take for granted. We reflect them to themselves like a mirror of the future: not as they are but as we know they can be. After a while, they go out and do it themselves.
I am deeply grateful to those who help us help them: our founder, my mother, Sue Duncan; the wonderful people on our Board of Directors and Auxiliary Board; our many donors and benefactors; our partners, mentors and volunteers; and all the others in these children’s lives who share the belief that every child already has everything inside them needed to succeed, if only we’ll let them.