Happy Friday Obots!
Today we feature more stars in the world of Chess.
Originally born in Denver, Colorado, Baraka spent her early years in Anchorage, Alaska, with her stepfather Yusef Shabazz and mother Raqiba Shabazz. Mr. Shabazz bought a chess set for the family and taught his children the moves. Baraka showed glimmers of talent. It wasn’t long before she began beating her stepfather. In an interview, her mother noted, “Who ever heard of a black girl playing chess?”
Here is the story as Baraka told it in a 1981 interview in The Spokeman,
“He went out and bought us a chess set,” Baraka recalls, “and he gave it to my sister and me and said, “Here, play chess.” We told him, “We don’t know how to play,” so he showed us how the pieces work and said, ‘You have to get your opponent’s king,’ and that was the first time I played. Six weeks after Febuary 16, 1978, I entered my first chess tournament and won three games out of five.”
At that point, the parents Raqiba and Yusef decided to afford her the best opportunities to excel at chess. The initial efforts bore fruit as she began her assault on chess competition and three years, she became one of the top female players in the country at age 15. She was also the first female player of African descent to reach the rank of “Expert” or a 2000 rating in the U.S. Chess Federation system. Many supporters chipped in including a private tutor.
(Ebony Magazine, 1982)
According to a 1981 People magazine article, …Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson has paid the Shabazzes’ rent bill from a community fund, and others—including a black-owned travel agency and entertainer Eartha Kitt—have donated money and services so Baraka can compete in distant tournaments.
The family made further sacrifices and after two years in California, the family moved to the “Mecca” of U.S. chess, the east coast. There the family settled in the Baltimore area. Here she gained her legend in Dupont Circle. Baraka originally had to overcome sexism and men taking her lightly. Opponents blew smoke in her face. In another case, a 17-year old boy looked at Baraka and told his mother, “You won’t have to wait for me, I’ll be back in half an hour.” Baraka dragged the game out for hours and hit him with a tactical shot winning the queen. The boy swept the pieces off the board.
Read the entire article on Baracka at The Chess Drum.
James, Justus and Joshua
Fewer than 2 percent of the 77,000 members of the United States Chess Federation are masters — and just 13 of them are under the age of 14.
Among that select group of prodigies are three black players from the New York City area — Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. — who each became masters before their 13th birthdays.
“Masters don’t happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen,” said Maurice Ashley, 45, the only African-American to earn the top title of grandmaster. “To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn’t get something like that in any city of any race.”
In September last year, Justus, who is now 13 and lives in the Bronx, was the first of the three boys to get to 2,200, becoming the youngest black player to obtain the master rank. Joshua, 13, of White Plains, was a few months younger than Justus when he became a master last December. James, 12, of Brooklyn, became a master in July.
In April of this year, Justus and James led their middle school chess team to capture 1st place at the National High School Chess Championship. Yes, the middle schoolers whipped their older counterparts!
The three New Yorkers met several years ago during competitions. Justus has an edge over James, mostly because he won many of their early games, before James caught up. Head to head, James and Joshua each have several wins against the other. Justus and Joshua have rarely competed against each other.
Although they are rivals, the boys are also friends and share a sense that they are role models.
“I think of Justus, me and Josh as pioneers for African-American kids who want to take up chess,” James said.
James’s father, James Black, said he and Justus’s and Joshua’s parents were aware of what their sons represent and “talk about it a great deal,” but tried not to pressure them too much.
Black said his son “knows that the pressure comes along with the territory. What is going to happen is going to happen. As long he plays, we’re sure that things will work out for the best.”
The three boys approach the game differently. Justus and Joshua say that James studies the most, and Joshua admits he would rather play than practice. “I like the competition,” he said. “And I like that chess is an art.”
Justus said he is the most aggressive of the three, and he and James agree that Joshua is the most unpredictable. “Joshua likes to change up his openings during tournaments,” Justus said.
The Grio’s Todd Johnson interviews Chess Master Justus Williams:
Read more about these 3 phenoms here.
Adisa Banjoko is on a mission. That mission is to combine three interesting artforms and create an international phenomenon. Banjoko’s idea of bringing together, hip-hop stars, martial artists and chess players is a novel idea and provides a platform for discussing a plethora of socio-political issues. It is already understood that chess is being used as an educational tool; rap music is very influential and can be used to capture the attention of a young, mass audience; martial arts is not only the current craze in American cinema, but has been popularized by a burgeoning video culture of the youth.
All three of these cultural artforms have a lot in common in that they deal with opposing forces. In an earlier interview, Banjoko states, “Our purpose is to encourage young people across the country to infuse their artistic and physical gifts with chess tactics and strategies to enrich their lives for years to come.” The Chess Drum’s Daaim Shabazz interviewed Banjoko and he revealed more detail about the Hip-Hop Chess Federation and his vision.