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African American Men and Chess: A Tradition of Competition and Brotherhood

The game of chess is a game of strategy and
patience. In the African American community, playing chess is a rite of
passage. The chess pieces: kings, queens, knights, rooks and pawns are
the tools with which they engage, and to the victor go the bragging
rights. And the respect.

“It’s a thinking man’s game,” says an elderly gentleman. “You have to be smart to play.”

Even
as the country struggles with tough economic times, and even as these
men are in the midst of fiscal and professional woes, they still find
solace in the game.

“There’s a lot of
competition,” a young man says proudly, as he and a friend compete for
a few dollars and a smoke at Atlanta’s Woodruff Park. “There’s big
competition out here and you have to be good. I’ve been coming here for
years.”

Financial hardships
notwithstanding, the men in downtown Atlanta’s Woodruff Park come out
to experience the camaraderie and to test themselves against some of
the toughest competition in the city.

The
game of chess is a direct parallel to the game of life; the moves you
make directly affect the outcome of your journey. Younger players can
learn from older players who have played the game for years and
witnessed the game unfold time and time again.

The
bond that is forged in playing the game helps to strengthen the bond
between black men in the community. When so many forces, economic,
social and otherwise, seem to conspire to force these men into
adversarial roles, the game of chess and the fellowship in places like
Woodruff Park — reinforces brotherhood — and intellectual stimulation.

“I
love it — it’s my favorite part of the day to come watch these guys,”
says one onlooker, a middle-aged businessman who works nearby. “You can
learn a lot from a man that knows how to master the game!”

But in chess, much like life itself, we are all forever students. Checkmate.
todd williams