Monday, June 1, 2009

Taking Chess to the Norfolk, Va. community

I went into a classroom in the fall of 2008 with nothing more than the hope of beinging knowledge, power and hope into the lives of my students.

Thanks to The U.S. Chess Trust, Hip-Hop Chess Federation, Adisa Banjoko, The Josh Waitzkin Foundation, Virginia Scholastic Chess, Tidewater Chess Club and many parents putting in time and supplying chess sets and encouragement I was able to meet and exceed my greatest hopes.

Inside a classroom that was little more than four thin walls in a portable, I was greeted by a majority of seniors who had given up on themselves and chosen to marinate in bitterness, anger and rebellion. Through the use of chess, humor, a feather halo, caution tape, dollar-store magic wand, a cell phone with their relatives on speed dial, we built a learning environment.

In the fall most of the boys in the senior class went from one in-school brawl and swear-fest to another, not caring much for themselves, let alone anyone else. As time passed so did they, rising from Fs to B and a few As. They all became avid chess players.

In May 2009, when a classmate, here for the year from Cambodia, was being unjustly deported over a misfire in communication they galvanized into a force of nature. They wrote and called the organizations involved in the deportation. They called a U.S. Congressman and got him involved. Within four intense days our American Government class turned into a lobbying group of stunning force and the classmate was back, surrounded by a group hug of arms of every shade, tattooed and not, woven in a protective circle over the prodigal mate.

The next day the Congressman, Glenn Nye, came to meet them and play chess. The next week the students of the senior class also taught a major newspaper publisher to play and enjoy the game. Parents who had been shut out of angry teens’ lives were playing chess on Tuesday nights.

Moms danced in the middle of Barnes & Noble in the mall to teen tunes blaring as their children taught chess to strangers in an effort to raise funds to help classmates in need.

This is what chess has done for people here in Norfolk, va. and I hope to continue to teach the game and the life strategies in our community. Vivian Anderson and I hope to put together HHCF events around the city to bring chess, music, martial arts and the arts together. We liked what we saw developing in these students and believe it must continue on after graduation as these young people find their way into the community. We also believe it is critical that the game of chess become a touchstone for all grade levels as part of unpressured, social competative, learning events.

We welcome any ideas, venues and donations of prizes, locations, materials and volunteers to teach chess. Welcome also to Chess Master James Schuyler who will participate by playing simultaneous chess games with all comers. We hope to have a 30-player exhibition as part of our first event. Check this space for details.

It takes a community to raise the standards, dignity and self-esteem of a student and the teachers, parents, relatives, friends, congress people, newspaper publishers, even the maintenance and kitchen staff of a school are all part of that village. United we stand. Many thanks to those who stood with us. ##

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