Life Strategies for DC Youth

Marte Gardner

Marte Gardner (Washington, DC)

Interesting article in the Washington Post about a young teenager who is trying to figure out his life by utilizing chess strategies. We have been hearing this a lot in the past 7-8 years with many different initiatives such as Adisa Banjoko’s Hip-Hop Chess Federation (HHCF) and Orrin Hudson’s BeSomeone. Neither were the first to put these issues on the table, but both have catapulted the issue in the forefront with their organizations.

Marte Gardner is a 15-year old who finds that he has to use strategy to survive on the streets… an unlikely application for chess, but we are hearing it more and more these days.

This is the reality of some children in Washington, where survival games are played at every level, some more fatal than the next.

But it doesn’t have to be like that, they tell him at the rec, if you use the same strategy that you would use in chess: Look in front and behind at the same time and know that no piece is to be taken for granted.

It is the same strategy Marte has to use each day: to get to class at Eastern Senior High School, to move around his new neighborhood, where it is dangerous to be like him, new and not known. So he rolls with a swagger as he makes his way alone across the board of life. No rooks, no bishops, no knights out here to defend him.

“In real life you have to be cautious all the time,” Marte says. “There is a lot of killing in D.C. You have to watch your back. You have to be on your toes. When they start shooting, you have to know where to run.”

Using these survival strategies, Marte took the bus to the Recreation Center to participate in the “Bum Rush the Boards” tournament sponsored by Words, Beats & Life organization. Their mission is to teach kids life strategies and encourage them to express themselves in hip-hop culture. Hip-hop seems to be the language that organizations are using to reach the youth these days. The article states that there are lessons not only in chess but in “DJing, art, fashion design, poetry and the lives of cultural revolutionaries.”

Story here!


  1. As a black man, I prefer Hudson’s methods over using hip hop since the hip hop culture seems to profile too many people in jail as a profession. Let’s use chess to rise above that and be someone.

    We can do this without sacraficing our roots!

  2. Concerned Black Man,

    This is not a competition. If you like Orrin, support Orrin. If you like Adisa, support Adisa. If you like both, support both. There is no need to compare… too much of that is done when we are all trying to do the same things. Didn’t we learn anything from the 60s??? There is room for various methods of reaching our youth through chess. We should know that chess is not a panacea for social ills, but we can use different methods to present chess as a positive and enjoyable activity.

    The language of today’s youth (whether we like it or not) is hip-hop and the medium is the cell phone/Internet. RZA has created to build the online community. The impact these rappers can make if they focused on the positive is extremely powerful. To ignore hip-hop as a powerful medium is foolish. Hudson even uses rap themes to invoke positive messages. I have posted more than 20 articles on Orrin and about 15 on Adisa. If you go to these links at The Chess Drum, you will read and see similar images of youth smiling and enjoying the “chess experience.” Let’s focus on that!

    I grew up with hip-hop and while I don’t like the direction it took, it is an artform that cannot be ignored. The type of hip-hop we don’t like reflects more on the sickness of our society than anything else. If we are using hip-hop, I would like to see the conscious hip-hop that was prevalent in the 80s (i.e., KRS-One, Public Enemy, X-Clan, The Fugees, Tribe Called Quest, etc.) and some more recent acts (Nas, The Roots, Common, Lupe Fiasco, OutKast, Talib Kweli). There is enough content in hip-hop that you don’t have to focus on gangster rap and prison culture.

    I honestly don’t believe any of these efforts will be sustainable until each begins to understand that this is not a competition. United we stand, divided we fall… that has always been true.

  3. this article is not about Adisa, as a matter of fact it has nothing to do with him or his organization. The student is part of Words Beats & Life, the organization that inspired Adisa to create his organization. As for the concerned man, i would suggest that you should spend less time on blogs and more in the community doing what you think should be done.

  4. The article never suggested that it was about Adisa. It mentions initiatives similar to yours. Also who ever did this video didn’t mention your organization nor anyone’s name associated with it… that’s their fault or your fault. I never saw a press release and had no idea who sponsored it. You had an opportunity to tell us what Words, Beats & Life is. You were so insistent on making that point about Adisa that you didn’t take the time to tell us what you were about.

    Many organizations are doing the same things in the Black community and of course Adisa is one who has done similar things. Black chess communities have been doing these things for decades, but who cares who was first? How long will these programs last? That’s the question. That is why organizations should not view this as a competition (the way you do) and work together for a common goal. As I said above, none of these efforts will be sustainable as long as we view it as a competition. There is a pandemic of social rot in the Black community and we’re quibbling over who is getting credit for a chess program.

    By the way… this is not merely a blog. It is part of a 7000-page Pan-African website viewed in over 200 countries and territories. It brings to light programs like yours. If you have a story, let us hear it.

  5. I would agree that it does not “matter” who did it first. I would also agree that it only maters if things like this will last. The truth is that we are all doing the best we can with what we have. Engaging youth and their families the ways we know how. I personally do care that the blog was about the HHCF and the work they are doing but not about the group that actually hosted the event here in DC that inspired the article. You are right though about the fact that we chose not to make this article about our organization and decided to let it be totally about the life of one of our students, that was a choice, and i cant get mad if people don’t investigate who does what.

    I would also say that there have been numerous attempts on the part of many organization (WBL, H2A and HHCF) involved, ours being one of them, to promote working together around events like this. It does seem though that egos (my own included), lies and misrepresentations have not allowed that to happen…. just yet, but perhaps in time this to will come to pass.

    By the way, the HHCF has a tournament taking place today in the bay, if you can, go out and support those folks. We will be hosting our next tournament in DC on April 18th. We are also working to host bum rush the board in NY, NJ, and Philly in the coming months.

  6. Thanks brother!

    Get me some material so I can run a story about what you’re doing. I’ll give it the worldwide attention that cannot be garnered anywhere else.

    I could not make Adisa’s joint on today. I had made plans, but we didn’t connect on it. I gave some support in another way and The Chess Drum is listed as a sponsor.

    Let me know the details. We can definitely “bumrush” the chess community with this initiative. There are also some interesting intiatives out of Detroit. DC is one of the most important cities for these types of initiatives.

  7. On Saturday, April 18, 2009 from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Words Beats & Life
    (WBL) along with the DC Department of Parks and Recreation and Columbia Heights Youth Club will host the fourth annual Bum Rush the Boards Hip-Hop Chess Tournament at Columbia Heights Community Center located at 1480 Girard St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009. The world’s first hip-hop chess tournament, Bum Rush the Boards was created by WBL in 2006 to promote the idea to the hip-hop generation of overcoming through strategic struggle. The name of the event was inspired by Public Enemy’s album, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show” released in October 1987.

    There is a logical connection between chess and hip-hop considering that hip-hop, as a culture, is highly competitive. It is replete with opportunities to battle and to compete in order to win over crowds, crews, and sponsors. By connecting hip-hop to chess, WBL has created a chess tournament that exposes youth to a culture (hip-hop) and a science (chess) that requires them to think ahead, to manage talent and to size up their adversaries. WBL recognizes that these skills are not only useful in both chess and hip-hop, but in business and life, as well.

    This year’s tournament will include four rounds of chess with sections for both youth and adults. There will also be workshops and exhibitions taking place throughout the day on Rocking, Toasting, Visual Arts, Poetry, Graffiti, Chess, and more.

    This Evenis brought to you in part by D.C. Parks and Recreation.

    Take some time to register TODAY at (It’s FREE!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button