Change happens when communities come together to heal.

Carole Robertson Center for Learning youth, supporters, and staff did exactly that, honoring the lives of our namesake Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair during our annual Legacy Week programming, September 11-15, 2023. From gathering for a 60th Anniversary Commemoration of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing to walking in our Peace March, we rededicated ourselves to advancing racial justice and strengthening Chicago’s communities, one child at a time.

Below are some highlights:

Journey Through Time: A Historical Gallery of Resilience, Hope, and Healing

Before our 60th Anniversary Commemoration program kicked off, community members learned about the four young girls who died in this unthinkable act of violence—our namesake Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair—through a gallery of artifacts curated by our Social Justice & Equity Committee.

Words of Wisdom and Remembrance

Christine Brambila, Board Member, Alumna, and Senior Program Officer with Illinois Children’s Healthcare Foundation

“We are dismantling systems of oppression with the power of knowledge.”

Cristina Pacione-Zayas, First Deputy Chief of Staff with the Chicago Mayor’s Office

“It is important for every child to have at least one person who is crazy about them.”

Harold Green, Award-winning Poet, Speaker, and Bandleader

From his original poem, “Mountain Top”:

“If this be the hill that I die on
It should be a mountain top
It should be glorious.”

Reflections (on video) from Dianne Robertson Braddock, Educator and Sister of Carole Robertson

“A part of teaching children is that they have to know the truth about this country, about their culture, and all cultures that exist in this country. I believe that when children know their background, it is not a dangerous thing. When they’re educated, that gives you empathy towards others.”

Tonika Lewis Johnson, Social Justice Artist and Founder of The Folded Map Project

“I wanted to change the conversation. I wanted people to not think of Chicago as just a place where violence occurs. I wanted them to understand the history of how neighborhoods started to struggle with those issues.”

View the Folded Map Project website:

Bela Moté, President and CEO of the Carole Robertson Center for Learning

“While we often think about the Civil Rights Movement as a moment in time, in history, we know that the work hasn’t ever stopped because the need hasn’t stopped. We recognize the need to be ever diligent in the face of continued systemic inequities and the ongoing erosion of civil rights.”

CEO and President of the Carole Robertson Center standing at a podium

Marching Toward Peace

Annual Legacy Week Peace March

Last Friday—60 years to the day of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing—Carole Robertson Center children, families, and staff at all three of our flagship sites walked in our annual Peace March. After observing a moment of silence, we chanted messages of peace and unity down the block while holding the four young girls in our hearts. One step at a time, we’re educating the next generation of activists, change agents, and peace makers.

History, Her Story, and Our Stories

Youth at all three of our sites engaged in deep reflection and self-expression by participating in this year’s Legacy Week Essay Contest. Age-appropriate prompts about our history and its connection to the Civil Rights Movement sparked thoughtful conversations about hope, kindness, and togetherness. The 12 winning essayists even had their work displayed at our Commemoration ceremony!

In the Press

Local media covered the Center’s Legacy Week activities, ensuring that the general public learns about the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the four young girls, and how organizations like ours step up to continue the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. Social Justice & Equity Committee Co-Chairs Latoya Hazzard and Candice Washington were featured on WTTW and ABC 7 Chicago, respectively.

An Honor and Responsibility 

Every day, the Center honors our namesake Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair by ensuring that over 2,500 children in 27 neighborhoods throughout Chicago have safe, affirming spaces to learn, play, and grow. As the Center carries on its mission to educate, enrich, and empower children and families, the memory of the four girls remains at the forefront.

Thank you for your participation and support!

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Since 1976, the Carole Robertson Center for Learning has been dedicated to educating, enriching, and empowering children and families through comprehensive child and family development programs.