Summer End of HHCF Juvenile Hall Project (our final 3 days)
This past week HHCF did a Chess and Life Strategies 3 Day Workshop at Alameda County Juvenile Hall in San Leandro, CA. It is right on the boarder of Oakland. I always enjoy going here, because I really love my time with the kids. The only thing I hated was that I was never able to give my books to kids after the classes. Well, thanks to many kind people the HHCF was able to give books to a lot of the kids via the #HHCFJuvenileHallProject where people buy copies of Bobby Bruce & the Bronx: The Secrets of Hip-Hop Chess for my students. We got enough donations to give books to kids here an one of our out of state programs. We are very thankful.
Day 1: Started in the girls unit. Unit 6 is the Girls Unit, but I call it the Queens Unit. It has been a while since I got to go to Unit 6. All the old girls I knew were gone. That is a good thing but you always wonder how they are. The first day a young white girl with shoulder length hair and bright grey eyes slowly walked in. This girl looked like she walked straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. No joke. She spoke at a whisper. I will call her Mouse.
"Hi" she said with a half smile. "Are you gonna teach us chess today?"
Shaking her hand firmly I said " I am. My name is Adisa. Have a seat."
"Oh, ok, I really want to know how to play."
As she sat down two more Latina girls and a Black girl came in. Numbers are down. That is very encouraging.
I must say that the girls are almost always so easy to teach than the boys. The boys come in puffed up and rowdy and super duper hyper. The girls are quiet but more focused ON ME and really paying attention.
I told them I teach a fusion of chess and jiu-jitsu. I told them I'm really just trying to get them to figure out what they want to do in life and help them plan for that future to be real. I reminded them that whatever mistake they made that got them here, they are super young and have millions of options to choose from.
I started telling the girls about chess and life. I said "Each year you make a move. That move will have positve or negative impact on the next year. You make several solid moves, good things will tend to happen. You make a bunch of bad ones, bad results tend to happen. Chess is the same way."
"Ronda is going to love this class" Mouse giggled out loud. She said it with a face that told me she could not keep herself from interrupting me.
"Who is Ronda?" I asked.
Just as I said this girl walked in with cold blue eyes, blond cornrows and an emotionless face. She looks just like the MMA fighter Ronda Rousey (hence the nickname). The only they is, she has a sprinkling of freckles that made her dead serious face harder to take serious. But make no mistake, she was super serious.
She looked at the chessboard projected on the screen and could not contain her excitement either. "Ooooh, y'all really got chess going on up in here, huh?!" with a serious southern drawl. She sat at one of my display boards and immediately wanted to play "Can I play this one here?"
"In a minute. I promise." I said.
"I told you Mr. Bishop!" Mouse shouted. "Ronda loves the game. She can play good to." nodding mater-of-factly.
I chuckled and talked a bit more about jiu-jitsu and chess. Ronda showed immediate interest in learning jiu-jitsu and kickboxing as soon as she got out. "You gotta hook me up with classes Mr. Bishop. I'm serious."
As I spoke to them about short and long term goal planning and the like, two older Black women sat in on the class. One was trying to learn chess, the other was already a player.
I sat down and played a game with Ronda. She knew how all the pieces moved but was in no way classically trained. However, what struck me was her consistent attacking style and her understanding of approaching threats (and how to nullify them). The Black woman who knew how to play played with her as they plotted against me. It was so fun.
Meanwhile, Mouse played on the computer. She loved it.
I left in a rush and had only brought one book that day. The rest were at home. I signed it and gave it to Ronda. "Thank you so much. This book is cool. I'm going to read it right now Mr. Bishop. I'll see you tomorrow!" she said smiling.
The other girls were excited about day two as well. I promised I'd bring them all copies of the book tomorrow.
Next I went to Unit 2. During my break I learned that one of the boys I had met in my previous visit had died. He was shot. Allegedly he got out but could not get a job. He went back to the streets in search of sustenance and was killed.
As the group filed in, some of them remembered me. Some did not. One was a tall Latino boy with a super bright smile. "Can I get a game Mr. Bishop? You know we still got beef on the boards." he said with a laugh as he shook my hand.
"Set em up. Let's dooo thisss." I said in between laughter.
Some of the boys that did not know me came in with ice grills (cold emotionless faces). But some of their faces softened when they saw that others knew me and respected me. Nevertheless, I knew I had to gain their respect on my own terms. It is like having to audition over and over again for the same job.
I went straight in. Chess and life, mistakes equal loss, good choices equal longevity etc. A hand went up in the back of the class. "But what does any of that have to do with rap music?"
I dove straight in about Jay Z, Will Smith, Wu Tang Clan, Drake and 2 Chainz love for chess. How rappers don't play to be grandmaster's they play to learn about life. They got it instantly. The energy jumped up.
"I know when you guys lay down at night, you see more for yourself than this. I know it. You have to. You may all not know exactly what you want to be, but I'm sure it is not this. Whatever that is, is exactly what I'm trying to help you be. I don't care if it's going to college or being a construction worker. Who in here knows what they want to be?" I said to the group.
One big, solid built kid with a boyish face a lot of tattoos raised his hand.
"I want to be a doctor" he said with a smile.
"OK, that is good" I said. "You can still be a Dr. Don't think because you are locked up today that you still cannot be that. But you have to plan. You have to think. What kind of Dr. do you want to be?"
He said he wanted to be a surgeon.
" Alright. So let us start to look at your grades. Where do you need help? Where are you strong? All of this is doable. But you gotta want it and you gotta be willing to do the work." He nodded in affirmation.
My Latino challenger interrupted the after school special vibe , "Can we get on the boards now?!"
"Yes!" said immediately.
I managed the class between having new people play on the computer as a group, playing my game and resolving disputes about positions.
It was an amazing day. I told them I had books for them. Tomorrow could not come fast enough.
Day 2 and 3 will be posted soon....OH and I saw some dope raps by kids in the hall.....I'm talking about real bars. ......People see me in front of juve smiling and say "How can you smile walking into that place?" My answer is because my goal is to be the best part of their day. I smile because I go in with the best intentions of helping them find and defend their inner king and queen- and it's working.
If you would like to donate to the HHCF Juvenile Hall Project please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.