“Young Lions” in New York Times!

Justus Williams, Josh Colas and James Black, Jr. have a lot more in common than their names beginning with the same letter. All are from New York state, all have won multiple scholastic titles, all earned the title of National Master before their 13th birthday and all have desires to become Grandmasters. All three will put their skills to the test in the World Youth Championship in Brazil this week.

Walter Harris
1st Black National Master

Dylan Loeb McClain wrote a piece, “Masters of the Game, Leaders by Example” for the New York Times highlighting the three young masters. GM Maurice Ashley was interviewed for his insights and McClain also contacted The Chess Drum’s Daaim Shabazz to get a historical perspective of Black Masterdom in the U.S.

McClain noted from the “Drum Majors” list that about 85 African-American players had reached Master level. Of course this includes the one Grandmaster and two International Masters (Emory Tate and Stephen Muhammad), but not those outside of the U.S. Walter Harris made the first breakthrough around 1959-1960 at age 17. The development of these three young masters is unprecedented and this sentiment was echoed by Ashley in the interview.

Masters don’t happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen. 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.

The article also featured comments by James who gave an informal assessment of their feats. “I think of Justus, me and Josh as pioneers for African-American kids who want to take up chess,” he said. Ashley, who made National Master at age 20, reflected on the daunting tasks ahead and noted that it is difficult to make a living in chess. Nevertheless, with computer technology, available trainers and their location, these goals may be more attainable than in Ashley’s day.

NM Justus Williams, Nigel Bryant, NM Josh Colas, NM Jehron Bryant, NM James Black, Jr. Photo by Derrick Bryant.

NM Justus Williams (13), Nigel Bryant (15), NM Josh Colas (13), NM Jehron Bryant (15) and NM James Black, Jr. (13). All are part of a new wave of long-awaited chess success in the Black community. Photo by Derrick Bryant.

While it remains to be seen whether any of the three (or all) will reach the Grandmaster level (see essay on challenges on Black players), what is certain is that they have bright futures in chess or any other endeavor they choose to pursue. At the least, chess has taken them to far-flung places that most youth will never see. That alone is worth the journey.

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  1. This is an exciting moment! I have a feeling that the synergy between the boys is going to make them play some stimulating chess. I saw James yesterday and watched him play a GM, he is definitely one to keep an eye on. Having been there, done that, this time around Josh is ready! I haven’t spoken to Justus lately, but I am pretty sure, he’s ready. James and Justus leave tomorrow and Josh will leave on Wednesday. Lets not forget Darian and Rochelle who are also part of the US Team.

  2. I will try my best to provide updates and pictures for the fans as they become available. Tonight, the match up in the USCHESS league between James and Justus is a must watch on ICC. It will serve as a good prep for the World Youth. ( I predict it will be tactics v positional play)

  3. I commend the young black men for their phenomenal achievement and look forward to their achieving the Grandmaster status.

  4. I hope academic educators and leaders around the country are paying attention. The message is clear. Giving the normal African-American youth the opportunity, environment and experience for creative and intellectual pursuit great accomplishments are possible and it can be fun too! While history will tell if the young lions will be grand masters of chess or grand masters of life, it is definitely certain they have the aptitude for great scholarly and social pursuit.

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