A pair of Harvard University Business School students saved the day by hosting a Spades clinic and free-for-all worksheet to address the embarrassing conversation surrounding “not knowing how to play spades.” Understanding the need for a safe environment to learn the game, the creators, Alliyah Gary and Chelsea Grain Jefferson, created the clinic. Before the Thanksgiving holiday, their fellow students began a course to prepare them for family spades.

After a conversation with friends during an Africa Business Club retreat, Gary was inspired by the discussion topic of “the different things that make Black culture so beautiful.” As Harvard Business School encompasses a diverse Black community worldwide, they were still searching for a way to “share the different nuances of our culture.” 

@aegary Replying to @Blake Newby We weren’t expecting this reaction to us teaching our Harvard classmates how to play spades, but here are even more tips. @chelseagrainjefferson @Harvard Business School AASU #spades #howtoplay #harvardbusinessschool #harvard ♬ original sound – Alliyah Gary

Jefferson was inspired after people repeatedly asked her how to play spades.

“So it just felt really organic to say, OK, we could probably do this at scale, and there are plenty of other things that we probably should be teaching,” she said.

A few days before Thanksgiving, the inaugural Spades clinic launched. Gary and Jefferson hosted 50 of their peers, teaching Spades under Gary’s guidance. Additionally, they served Caribbean food catered by a Black-owned business and introduced the game’s history to Black music.

“Beyond just teaching the art of Spades, we were really intentional about celebrating the Blackness that is a part of Spades,” Gary said.

@chelseagrainjefferson This is your sign to give back this holiday season. We helped the less fortunate reinstate their Black cards (where earned) #spadesclinic #spades♠️ #spades #hbs #harvardbusinessschool ♬ WATER x HOLD YUH by ALTÉGO – ALTÉGO

Gary and Jefferson learned that not knowing how to play has been a pervasive social problem within the Black community when they posted a video of the Spades clinic on social media. Some think Spades is at risk of disappearing as a cultural tradition.

“This is one of the few intergenerational activities and experiences that you can really share with your parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles,” Jefferson noted.

Jefferson also noted that, on TikTok in particular, commenters have really opened up about their frustration at not understanding the game, according to The Grio. On Instagram, it’s a mix of encouragement and support. Twitter, formerly known as X, has been hit with a bit more criticism. Jefferson disagrees with some’s rhetoric that Spades should be completely isolated for the ones who know how to play already.

“There were some very divisive comments and messages I saw, and I think that’s really emblematic of why a lot of people aren’t learning and why the tradition’s dying a bit,” Jefferson said. “People are so protective over the idea of it, and then it just stays with the people who already know it. I think the loss in that is that connection we have to the next generation of folks who really have the opportunity to keep our traditions alive.”