How This Predominantly Black New Jersey School Is Empowering Its Students Through Chess

Whitney M. Young Jr. School has incorporated chess into its after-school program.

Photo credit:Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post

| July 03 2017,

7:57 pm

Movies such as Disney’s Queen of Katwe and stories like Baltimore chess phenom Cahree Myrick are dope images for young black kids who yearn for something constructive and enriching to do.

However, if we can take one lesson from these stories, it is that unless children are actively exposed to the game of chess, it will remain something quite intimidating.

According to NJ.com, Whitney M. Young Jr. School is looking to give that exposure to its predominately African American student body.

Through its after-school program, the school has taught a group 30 of its students (between grades 1-4) the ins and outs of the game.

Part of what motivated school officials to start the program is the growing incarceration rate within minority communities; the Jersey City school is making a concerted effort to make sure their students don’t follow that path.

“One in every 15 African American men and one in every 36 Hispanic men are incarcerated in comparison to one in every 106 white men,” said Kings Knight Chess Club CEO Bobby Stewart told NJ.com. “We don't want any of Whitney M. Young students to be part of those statistics.”

Stewart beautifully explained the connection between chess and the children’s evolution, “Students in Grades 1 to 4 are novices on the board as well as in life. They are introduced to the 64 squares, which represent their community and the universe. The pieces represent their family and their trials and tribulations.”

Stewart hops that with chess as a foundation, his students will become well-developed adults.

“In order for these students to survive they must learn how to develop, attack, defend and even sacrifice in this ever-changing society. They must have patience and persevere in the classroom, on the chessboard and in the streets,” Stewart said.

"The Whitney M. Young Jr. Community School is grateful that we have had the privilege of hosting the Kings Knight Chess Club in our CASPER after-school program,'' said Principal Michele West. "Mr. Bobby Stewart has made a positive impact on the minds of our young students."

The school hopes to expand the program to two to three days a week.

“At Whitney M. Young Jr. Community School, I'm not ‘Searching For Bobby Fischer.' I'm searching for people named Talib Ahmad, Bobby Stewart, Principal Kafele, Chris Gadsden, Coach Collins, Lewis Spears, Steve Campos, Fenis Debo, Judge Joe Charles, Bill Perkins (RIP), the Honorable Mayor Glenn Cunningham (RIP), the Honorable Judge Shirley Tolentino (RIP), and Dr. Francis Thompson (RIP),” Steward said.