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  • Writer's pictureLemuel LaRoche

8th Annual Chess & Community Conference

Community Resilience

This year Chess and Community held its 8th annual conference, a day-long affair that brings together local officials, public speakers, and our Athens youth to engage in several activities. The main event is the youth chess tournament, for which C&C youth prepare diligently. Teams are arranged in pairs, threes, or brave solo players. In addition, the traditional table chess set is swapped with a life size floor set, enhancing the role of perspective in winning the game. The winning teams are awarded a total grand prize of $1000. This year for the health and safety of the community, the tournament, which is typically open to the public, will be streamed virtually for public viewing on April 10th, 2021.

Certain face to face components of the conference were still a great success thanks to support from the Athens Clarke County library where the youth chess tournament and essay winners were present to a socially distanced audience of C&C youth. Fun fact, In the beginnings of C&C, before the official conference was established, the ACC library was one of the original meeting spots where founder, Lemuel "Life" Laroche held weekly open Chess Play for Athens youth. Every Monday afternoon, between 30 and 40 youth came together, played chess, and built friendships. The seeds sown during these early days would later blossom into the annual conference.

Today, the essence of the annual conference is to bring together civic leaders with the community they serve. The day kicks off with the Justice Served, a segment of one-one chess matches between C&C youth and the ACC Police Department and Sherriff. This year, Officer Doug Maddox was one of several officers who lost a match to a youth player! Another officer, Officer Johnson, played with Yosua, a C&C student who happens to be a good friend and teammate of Officer Johnson's son. "Yosua put it on me pretty quick!" Johnson said. Maddox says he enjoys chess because, "it’s a game where you determine your own destiny." In every way, chess is a game where all elements are influenced by intention. Everything down to the function of a piece can be swayed depending on the player’s intentions, for example a knight’s potential to leap across the board in L-shapes in each direction is very limited when placed in the corner square where it has only 2 options as opposed to 8 options in a center square. As in life, our potentials are cultivated best when we are positioned in environments that can nourish our skills

Julita Sanders, our partner through the ACCPD Community Outreach Division has led this initiative for the last 12 years, organizing the Chess with Cops segment for the past 6 C&C conferences. Sanders calls her role the liaison between the police department and the community and says it gives her great pleasure to show the community a different side to the police department. She oversees 250 neighborhood watches and a variety of community initiatives such as the ACCPD Youth Summer Camp which C&C is also involved in organizing. Officer Johnson who we spoke with earlier, serves as a camp counselor at this summer day camp for boys and girls ages 8-14 where he has the pleasure of engaging in impactful activities like crafts, sports, family day, and field trips all at no cost to the families.

On the other end of the spectrum from this one-on-one engagement, the conference uses the C&C essay-based scholarship, to spark community wide discussions with local representatives around current events and issues. This year the prompts were the following:

What does community resilience mean to you?

How have you helped your community during the COVID pandemic?

Who is a community leader you admire and why?

All graduating C&C Seniors who complete the required essay are recipients. Additionally, other high school seniors are selected from the greater Athens community based on the content of their essays. This year's senior is named Alin Flores-Lucio of Cedar Shoals High School, she plans to attend Valdosta State University in the fall. Alin has been an active volunteer with two local food banks to address food insecurity across Athens. Alin's greatest inspiration is her mother.

A popular segment in the conference this year was the hand selected International Chessboard Museum, an elegant showcase that brings together novel chess sets from all over the world--from Ethiopia to Sri Lanka. With a few hours till tournament time, the kids make sure to get in some warmup rounds on these novel boards. Watching two C&C students warming up with the Ethiopian chess set, I noted how the humanistic pieces made the objectives of the game feel more life-like in a sense. One of the students playing says, "I always think of the players as people, as members of a kingdom." Life teaches the youth to view even the traditional medieval chess set through this humanistic lens, examining how every piece on the chessboard correlates with a real-life person, relationship or institution. The rook or the castle, symbolizes the community as a source for a direction for our youth. Our collective choices to either move our youth forward through positive actions, or to risk regression, we resemble the rook’s linear movement either advancing forward or regressing backwards. The Knight, the gentleman soldier, Life calls this piece a symbol for our need for inner discipline and balance. Known as the members of the warrior class during the middle ages in Europe, in our world these are our Police and Armed Forces who may use their force to either serve good or evil.

Sacrifice is a common trait across every piece on the board, and sacrificial plays made highlights in this year’s champions, Robert and Christopher’s performance. Through C&C the winning duo learned, just because they can take a piece from their opponent, does not mean it always serves their mission. Witnesses were astounded when Robert’s sacrifice of his knight in the final round spurred a genius sequence of moves that ultimately secured a checkmate of his opponents’ (Team Iza, Crista, and Caleb) King. The full match and more will be available for viewing virtually on April 10th, 2021, we hope you can tune in and we thank all our supporters who made this 8th annual conference possible.

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