We look forward to your presence at this special evening.

Six decades since the unthinkable tragedy, we gather with community members and fellow partners in change, rededicating ourselves to serving children, youth, and families with the spirit of hope, healing, and resiliency.

The Carole Robertson Center’s mission to educate, enrich, and empower children and families stands on the core belief that every child deserves safe, nurturing places to play and grow. We invite you to join us to remember the past, reflect on the present, and envision a brighter future for Chicago’s children and families.

Join us for this evening of fellowship including a speaking program with poetry and other performances.

Join us for our 60th Anniversary Commemoration Event

Date & Time
5:30 – 7:30 pm
Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Lawndale Christian Health Center
Senior Center
3745 W. Ogden Ave.,
Chicago, IL 60623

Reflections from Dianne Robertson Braddock

As we reflect on the tragedy that occured on September 15th, 1963, sister of Carole Robertson, Dianne Robertson Braddock, speaks on the church bombing and the response of the community. The Carole Robertson Center for Learning was inspired by the horrific event and was established by parents, community members, and supporters of civil rights and anti-racism. The mission of the Center aims to create safe and nurturing places for children to learn and grow.

Dianna Robertson Braddock

Event Program

5:30pm | Reception

Walk through our “Journey through Time: A Gallery of Resistance, Hope, and Healing”

Light refreshments will be available

6:00pm | Program Begins


Christine Brambila

Carole Robertson Center for Learning Board Member and program alumna


Cristina Pacione-Zayas

First Deputy Chief of Staff, Mayor’s Office, City of Chicago


Harold Green III

Poet, author, and Executive Director of FFTL Foundation

Video Reflection

Dianne Robertson Braddock

Honorary Board Member of the Carole Robertson Center for Learning and Robertson family representative


Tonika Lewis Johnson

Social justice artist, Folded Map Project

Closing Remarks

Bela Moté

Carole Robertson Center for Learning President and CEO

7:00pm | Dessert and Fellowship


Special Guests and Speakers

Cristina Pacione-Zayas
Harold Green
Tonika Lewis Johnson
person in red on a dark blue background

Inspired by the Past. Dedicated to the Future.


Drawing Hope From Four Little Girls

On September 15, 1963, members of the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in an act of racial violence.

Four young girls between the ages of 11 and 14—our namesake Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair—died in the bombing. They were supposed to participate in the church’s Youth Day that morning.


The United States passed the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or nationality.

Many historians point to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing the year before as a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. People from all over the country stood up for racial justice through protests, advocacy, and community organizing —ultimately leading to the passing of this landmark legislation.


The Beginning: Parents and the Community

The Carole Robertson Center for Learning was incorporated in 1976 by families in Chicago’s West Side who knew that after-school programs were vital to their children’s development. That year, a popular and much-needed after-school program at St. Mary’s High School and Center for Learning was threatened with being shut down after St. Mary’s made the difficult decision to close, leaving already underserved neighborhoods with few options.

Drawing inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement, community leaders and families organized to ensure youth had equitable access to high-quality programs. With founder Maria Whelan at the helm, and anchored in remembrance of one of our nation’s darkest moments, the Carole Robertson Center for Learning established its role as a community anchor.


Center hosts first Rededication Ceremony

Fifteen years after the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, the Center honored its namesake Carole Robertson, along with fellow victims Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair, by hosting the first Rededication Ceremony in the organization’s history.


The Launch of the First Early Childhood Education Site

The Center opened its first early education program in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, which served 80 children and expanded the organization’s service footprint to include the city’s youngest learners.


Expanding our Reach

The Center established its Family Child Care Network (FCCN) to organize and provide resources, training, and technical assistance to independently operated family child care homes. The Center’s Family Child Care Network provides more options for families while creating economic opportunity in Chicago’s most disinvested neighborhoods.


Expanding our Spaces

The Carole Robertson Center for Learning opens flagship sites in Chicago’s North Lawndale and Little Village neighborhoods, tripling in size and establishing its role as a community anchor. The sites were launched while also expanding infant/toddler, preschool, and school age programs.


Exceptional Education

The Center is named as one of 21 exemplary early care and education programs in the nation.


The Center launches the Parent-Child Home Based Program


Award-Winning Education

The Center is recognized with the ExeleRate Illinois Governor’s Award of Excellence for Inclusion of Children with Special Needs.


Launch of BASES-K Initiative

To address kindergarten readiness in Chicago’s most disinvested communities, the Center launched its Building Academic and Social Emotional Supports into Kindergarten (BASES-K) initiative.


Overcoming COVID-19 as a Community

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center didn’t leave our communities’ children—or our education workforce—behind. From supply drives to supervised spaces for students to engage in remote learning, the Center stayed agile, retained its staff, and stepped up to meet Chicago families’ evolving needs.


Center acquires Albany Park Community Center

Through a competitive federal grant process, the Center received two grants from the Office of Head Start. The first, awarded in March, was a $20 million, five-year Early Head Start (EHS) Expansion grant to serve an additional 185 infants, toddlers, and expectant mothers each year. The second, awarded in July, was a $103 million, five-year award that enables the Center to serve a total of 666 Head Start and 513 Early Head Start children and families. EHS programs are free, federally funded programs that promote school readiness for children from low-income families.


The Center launched its Community-Based Advocacy program, which mobilizes families, staff, and community members to champion investments in early education and youth development. From yearly participation in Illinois Early Childhood Advocacy Week in Springfield to meaningful engagement with elected officials year-round, our approach to community-based advocacy centers families and keeps children’s policies top-of-mind in city and state legislation.


To better serve children, youth, and families in Chicago’s Far North Side, the Center acquired the Albany Park Community Center. Albany Park is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the country, and our services at this flagship site prioritize cultural responsiveness.


As an awardee for the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, the Center bolstered its capacity to provide academic enrichment and other support services during non-school hours.


Invest Today, Empower Tomorrow

To build upon the Center’s growing capacity for change, we launched our first-ever large-scale fundraising campaign. The aim of this campaign is to raise $15M in direct community investments that fund capital improvements, program innovation, and sustainability—all key components of healthy, high-quality learning environments.



Today, the Center reaches more than 2,500 children and youth in 27 communities across Chicago. As our mission to educate, enrich, and empower children, youth, and families grows, we remain anchored in our social justice roots, championing equity for our city’s youngest learners.

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.