Genius: Black Boys Over-Represented as Chess Masters

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 by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World

Black males are disproportionately represented in nearly every stereotype known to man.  They lead the nation in incarceration, unemployment and drop out rates.  But another area where black boys are over-represented is among the number of chess masters in the United States, reminding us of the tremendous genius of young black men when placed in motivational environments.

Less than two percent of the members of the United States Chess Federation are masters.  There are 47,000 members in all.  Only 13 of those masers are under the age of 14.  Three of these 13 masters are African American young men.

All three of the men live in New York City:  Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. All of them were actually named masters before their 13th birthdays.

“Masters don’t happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen,” Maurice Ashley, a grandmaster told the New York Times. “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.”

Daaim Shabazz, a professor at Florida A&M University, keeps a website that records the number of African American chess masters in the United States.  According to his site, 85 masters are African American.   Justus was the first boy to meet the standards to become a master, with Joshua and James following later.

“I think of Justus, me and Josh as pioneers for African-American kids who want to take up chess,” James said.

The stories of these young men (who are not related), is a firm example of the potential of all black boys when given an opportunity to succeed.  A little encouragement and a chance to break the chains of problematic stereotypes has allowed these young men to become intellectual Michael Jordans.  Unfortunately, too many black boys are led to believe that their genius starts and ends on the football field or basketball court, but the truth is that the greatness we show in sports can be replicated in all walks of life.

I recall simply applying techniques I’d learned from playing sports to propel me in my quest for academic achievement.  I haven’t looked back ever since.


Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World coalition.  He is also a national spokesperson for the Ujamaa Initiative to support black-owned business. You can join the initiative by visiting UjamaaDeals.com  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. 


20 Comment

  1. Wouldn’t it be nice to see this story on the 6:00 news? Moreover, what more deserving a story could there possibly be?

  2. The Living Legend mathematical genius, Dr. Abdulalim Shabazz, is more than likely the person referred to in the above story. He is a renowned mathematical genius who holds the position as the only endowed Chair at an HBCU at Grambling University. He was honored by President Clinton for his remarkable legacy of having trained, mentored and educated more blacks with PhD’s in mathematics than anyone in the world. He received his Masters in the 1940’s from MIT and his PhD in mathematics from Cornell in the 1950’s. He is in his 80’s and is still very active travelling the world in high demand as a leading authority in math and astrophysics, and also spearheads the training of young people, males in particular, in the game of chess all across America. We are honored to have Dr. Shabazz serve on our Board of Directors as no one exemplifies the spirit of mathematical genius, generosity of spirit and humility better than Dr. Shabazz. He, like Banneker, is one of America’s most unsung heros.

  3. This comes as no surprise to me at all. (Of course, there are many whites who would be choking themselves silly if they were ever to know – but this is one item, that would never be reported on Fox News so they can rest assured in their everlasting ignorance).

  4. Congratulations, young men. My child learned chess in elementary school for the thinking and strategy skills to be gained. That is a sure way to outiwt and outlast the opposition.

  5. My son isn’t a Chess Master but he started playing chess when he was ten years old. He was so fortunate to learn chess in a club that was FREE. This club had children of ALL races and genders and it was EXTRAordinary to have a club like that in MISSISSIPPI. Suburbia

  6. Having piloted an alternative school here in Detroit that attracted 70% males I am not surprised. I discovered African American Males were quite brilliant but we do not celebrate them or encourage their genius. We pushed the students to complete 2 years of curriculum instead of 1 year within 1 year and they did it.

  7. Correction. Spoke with our esteemed Board Member, Dr. Abdulalim Shabazz, and he confirmed that it was indeed his good friend whom your report is about, although he has worked to educate young men in chess himself, in additin to being the recipient of the President’s Medal for having educated more black with PhD’s in math that anyone, and holds the only Endowed Chair at any HBCU. He responded to the good news with the following comments:

    “Da’im Shabazz is a friend of mine, who, indeed, is a professor at FAMU, but much younger than I.
    I met him during my days at Clark Atlanta, where he got his PhD in International Aid and Development. He is sharp, brilliant, a great teacher, an all-around decent human being, and one of my true brothers in faith.”

  8. I’m not alarmed at this news. It is very sweet to my eyes that young brothers are serious about chess.
    The concentration efforts will cultivate the depth of the mind. I am smiling and will support you within my capacity to do so. Many Blessings, Bill A.

  9. Little Known Black History Facts
    The Origin Of The Game Of Chess
    Man has created and enjoyed strategic board games since the beginning of civilization. There is a bas-relief from the Tomb of the Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertari playing a form of chess over 4,000 yrs. ago. Also the story is told of a Songhai General in the intellectual centers in Timbuktu who bungled a military campaign & explained that he became so engrossed in a chess game that he paid no attention to the reports of his scouts.
    Chess was introduced into Europe between 700 & 900 A.D. by the Muslims & by both the Moors in Spain Saracen traders in Italy. It steadily increased in popularity in spite of some initial opposition from the church which considered chess a gambling , and, therefore, sinful.
    Medieval European chess was played by the same rules as its Muslim counterpart Shatranj until the second half of the Fifteenth century. Then certain innovations such as increasing the powers of the Queen & Bishop were devised to accelerate the tempo of thr game, & by the middle of the Sixteenth Century the basic rules for playing chess as we know it today had become standard.
    The origin of Chess —- from Africa.

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  11. This is so cool.

  12. Wait, waht? I feel so out of touch, suddenly.

  13. Wow! What an awsome article. I think I may get my 8 year old son into chess.

  14. See BROOKLYN CASTLES! The film is a MUST SEE for all who want to get a real glimpse of the possibilities of GENIUS that our children possess.

  15. Funny

  16. Good job boys! Lets keep it positive.

  17. love the greatest of these young brothers.We as adults need to stand behind are youth, Believe in themand quit saying their lost.If they are lost we need to find them.

  18. The movie “Fresh” with Sean Nelson from 1994 depicts a black boy who excels at chess. By tracing how the young hero manipulates the characters in his world, the plot suggests that the brilliance young men of color has been subverted into lives of crime in a society which does not allow their talent to flourish in other legitimate realms.

  19. It is a real shame that news like this is not “out there”, maybe because it threatens the stereotypes. And yet other less savoury “news” is out there

  20. This article is funny.
    3 out of 13 under-15 chess masters are black.
    so what?
    You can’t draw a conclusion with this tiny samples.

    There is no doubt that Blacks are the strongest ethnic group physically (reality reflects in athletic sports).

    However, no proof exists on the planet to disprove that Blacks are the least intelligent race.

    Note: I mean average or typical people of any race.
    Strong/weak or genius/retard exists in all races.

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