(Watch the video above)
My sister and I attended the neighborhood elementary school because my mother taught there. In the 90’s the Bronx didn’t have the best reputation but our public school was a bright spot in our community. Mom signed us up for every extracurricular activity in order to keep us sharp and out of trouble. I wanted to try out for the basketball team but she signed us up for chess instead.
Through chess, my sister and I went to weekend tournaments across New York City with our team until we were good enough for state and national tournaments. Our team was good enough to get the support to start another team when many of us on the chess team graduated from elementary and went to junior high school.
I was an average player, I don’t remember winning any tournaments but I did end up with a few trophies and enough experiences to last a lifetime. Chess made me a better thinker and decision maker as I had to solve problems and prepare strategy in order to succeed in the sport. Our team participated in the 1998 Junior High School nationals in Arizona during my last year in junior high school. I was one of the 4 top scorers that helped our team win the tournament. It was the first time a school from the Bronx had won the tournament in many years. Our success opened the door for us to visit City Hall and meet the mayor and get featured on local and national media.
We got the amazing opportunity to represent the United States by participating in the 1998 World Youth Games in Moscow, Russia. This was probably the first time that any of us had been to Europe and CNN did a feature story on our team. I was one of the kids chosen to appear in the television interview. I stumbled across this footage a few years ago and haven’t stopped laughing.
This was one of the best trips I’d ever had. For two weeks had a steady diet of borscht and bread. I remember us being mobbed by people in the streets because they wanted to take pictures with us and touch our skin. Black people were a novelty in Russia during that time. I made friends with a girl named Olga and we exchanged letters back and forth for a while. The most memorable part was having my mother and grandmother surprise my sister and me at the tournament. Mom had booked her own flight to come see us in Moscow. She and grandma flew from New York to Moscow via Copenhagen to see their children compete. It was amazing to have their support.
We didn’t win the tournament but the experience helped me triumph later on throughout life. I am forever grateful to Chess-In-The-Schools, the organization that supported us, for believing in a few kids from the Bronx and making the investments necessary to give us a chance to compete at every level. I am also thankful that my mother chose chess to help her kids compete in life.