Robertson Center honors church bombing victims

September 12, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Yet both their school's mission and its name are born of the civil rights movement. The Carole Robertson Center for Learning on the city's West Side is the only institution in the country that honors the four little girls killed in 1963 when the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham church.

"1976 of course is a lot closer to 1963 than today and they wanted to have a name that had some relevance to the civil rights history," said Cerethal Burnett.

The bell that once adorned that church was rung recently to mark the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Washington. This week, Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley were posthumously awarded the congressional gold medal. Though Robertson's family has never lived in Chicago, for the past 37 years, relatives of the 14-year-old martyr have been active in the center's advancement.

"The center is a source of joy and consolation for my family," said Dianne Robertson Braddock, sister of Birmingham bombing victim. "They are showing every day what can be done with children and what can be done with a community. They offer all of the services, the things that we say we need to make kids whole and to make them be productive, they offer that."

Burnett says it's fitting that a living tribute promotes education, what many deem the civil rights issue of our time.

"The big word is learning. Children having a safe place to go where they can learn," she said.

Naressa Jones has four children enrolled, including one with special needs. She say the opportunities afforded to "all" children shows the commitment to education.

"Normally people tend to put the kids with special needs in a corner and they seem to forget about them, but this center they engage the kids with special needs," Jones said.

Students will showcase their talents at an upcoming ceremony to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Birmingham church bombing. The center works to keep connected to its namesake to make sure even the littlest students understand the historical impact.

"I'm a firm believer if you don't know your history, you're bound to repeat it," Burnett said.

The Carole Robertson Center will hold its rededication ceremony on September 19.

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