Monday, February 6, 2023
This Black History Month, the Carole Robertson Center for Learning is taking the time to celebrate the achievements of our staff, site leadership, and community partners, while also reflecting on our past to understand the struggles and triumphs of Black people throughout history.
This year’s Black History Month theme is “Black Resistance” in the past, present, and future. Children and youth across the Carole Robertson Center have started the year learning about the Civil Rights Movement and the power of peaceful protest, kindness, and diversity to effect social change.
“It shows them that no matter how small they are, their voices can still be heard and can make a difference in the world,” says Candice Washington, Kindergarten Readiness Community Liaison.
We look to those who fought for civil rights, both in Birmingham, Alabama — the city where our namesake, Carole Robertson, lost her life — and in Chicago.
As the Center’s President and CEO, Bela Moté, tells the story: “Carole was 14 years old, the youngest of three children and the only one still at home. On September 15, 1963, she was going to church and she left before her parents because there was a recital and she was in the choir. She had a beautiful white dress on with beautiful white shoes and that morning she met her friends to practice in the church basement.
Several bombs were placed throughout the 16th Street Baptist Church, and the first bomb went off in the basement. Tragically, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair lost their lives as a result of that bomb.
Many leaders of the Civil Rights Movement were motivated to take action by this horrific event, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who fought for civil rights in Birmingham.
In his eulogy delivered at a service for three of the four young girls, Dr. King stressed that though the girls were martyred, they did not die in vain. He called upon their friends and families, as well as the community at large, to cast bitterness from their hearts and turn away from the desire for vengeance.
“The freedom songs are playing a strong and vital role in our struggle,” said Dr. King. “They give the people new courage and a sense of unity.”
Dr. King’s connection to our mission and vision touches us even today. In 1966, Dr. King moved into a North Lawndale apartment to highlight housing segregation issues in Chicago. While the apartment building where he lived was eventually destroyed, new apartments were built in his honor in 2011, named the Dr. King Legacy Apartments. There is even a Martin Luther King Jr. Fair Housing Museum on the main floor. These apartments are minutes from the Carole Robertson Center’s North Lawndale flagship site.
Although racial injustice persists to this day, the mission that Dr. King set out to accomplish never ceased. The Carole Robertson Center exists to break down barriers and provide Chicago’s families with resources to educate, enrich, and empower children, youth, and families through early childhood education and youth development programs. We share our name with Carole Robertson because our founders were inspired by the light, energy, and spirit of the Civil Rights Movement. They were determined that no other children be denied life and opportunity, as were Carole Robertson and her friends.
In this spirit, students had the chance in January to read Let the Children March by Monica Clark Robinson, Who Was Martin Luther King Jr.? by Lisbeth Kaiser, and A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein, and they had a lot to say about everything they learned.
“We read books about Martin Luther King Jr. He said ‘I have a dream’ and it was about everybody getting together. He didn’t think people should be embarrassed about their skin color.” said first grader Aubrey.
“They kept the light on for him so people can remember him. We read and write stuff about him, we give him a heart,” said first grader Adelin.
The pursuit of greater racial equity and inclusion requires kids to be exposed to diversity at a young age. To uplift all voices that have an impact on our country, it’s critical that Black history is studied and celebrated—not just in January and February, but throughout the entire year. Black history is American history, and when kids understand the fuller picture of the past, it will also help them build a better future.
About Carole Robertson Center for Learning
The Carole Robertson Center for Learning is one of Chicago’s largest early childhood education and youth development organizations, serving diverse populations across 27 communities, with a significant presence in the North Lawndale, Little Village, and Albany Park communities. Our programs reach approximately 2,000 children at every stage of development, from prenatal to age 17. Our mission is to educate, enrich, and empower children and families. Since its inception in 1976, the Center has worked to honor the life and memory of Carole Robertson who, together with her friends Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, and Denise McNair, was killed in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.