New York chess loses Beejay Hicks to COVID-19

Beejay Hicks
Photo courtesy of Pearline Hicks

Adia Onyango reported on Facebook group Chess Connections that, “fellow teammate and chess player, Beejay Hicks passed away due to COVID-19.” Beejay, born on December 19th, 1954 in Harlem (NYC), was 65 years old.

According to Pearline Hicks, Beejay’s wife of 23 years, their family had felt unwell in mid-March and went to the hospital to be tested amidst the coronavirus outbreak. The couple, along with their son Nicholas exhibited positive signs of the virus. After this diagnosis, it turns out that their three cases were not considered severe enough, so they were told to return home and quarantine for two weeks. Hospitals have been sending people home as part of a triage procedure to admit only the most severe cases.

Pearline mentioned that Beejay had “high blood sugar” and suffered from neuropathy, a condition common in people with diabetes. Nevertheless, Beejay continued working out during the quarantine. After two weeks, symptoms from the virus rapidly worsened with Beejay. On Friday, March 27th, he developed an intense fever that reached 103-104 degrees (40 Celsius).

While Beejay did not have previous respiratory issues, he began to develop shortness of breath. On Monday, March 31st, Beejay woke up struggling to breathe. The virus was ravaging his body, but he stated he did not want to return to the hospital for treatment. His wife honored his wish and he died in her arms.

Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19)

According to a USA Today article, coronavirus cases could soar in underserved groups, given the lack of access to tests and treatment. Just yesterday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams highlighted the high-risk factors in the Black community, such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. Data continues to emerge about the disproportionate socioeconomic impact during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Sadly, Beejay had become a victim of an epidemic (COVID-19) on top of another epidemic (diabetes). Harlem also lost Peter Roberts a couple of years ago to a chronic illness. This discussion of how chronic diseases are ravaging the Black community is becoming a theme during the coronavirus outbreak. Many in this community have labor-intensive jobs that cannot be done from home (under quarantine) and also offer little security in terms of health insurance.

Harlem resident and National Master Jerald Times weighed in…

Black and Brown communities has less hospital beds per capita than the mainstream population. Beejay was in a high risk population, he was 60 plus year-old man (12/19/1954) who has a preexisting condition. He did not receive adequate health care as he was sent home from the hospital during this outbreak. I mention high risk population also because Beejay was a weightlifter with a jovial spirit, so his death came as a surprise to many.

The coronavirus has exploded to over 1,440,000 cases worldwide with the U.S. leading the country count with over 400,000 cases. Approximately 35% of those cases are in the state of New York (142,000+). The five boroughs (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island) that make up New York City has a high concentration of people who rely heavily on public transit systems. Also, airports are massive hubs for international traffic. Unfortunately, the virus had spread before Governor Andrew Cuomo has enacted several acts of legislation to effectively shut the city down.

Beejay Hicks… New York’s Chess Gladiator

Tournament laborers: Jerry Bibuld (Arbiter), Daaim Shabazz (The Chess Drum), Beejay Hicks (tournament hall manager), Jeffery Mitchell (Deputy Arbiter). Copyright ©, Daaim Shabazz.

Tournament laborers: Jerry Bibuld (Arbiter), Daaim Shabazz (webmaster), Beejay Hicks (tournament hall manager), Jeffery Mitchell (Deputy Arbiter). Photo by Daaim Shabazz (The Chess Drum)

Jerald Times had known Beejay since the 1970s. They were teammates on several league times and helped to make Harlem a main stopping point for chess activity. Adia Onyango eulogized Beejay by referring to him as “… a chess player that was not only active in the Harlem community but also USCF tournaments (most recently playing in the last Millionaire Tournament).” She listed Beejay’s activities in league play:

1998-1999 Kingsmen III
1999-2006 St. Nicholas Unknown (Captain, Kenneth Moody)
2010-2011 Chess Connections (Captain Adia Onyango)
2011-2012 X-Men (Captain Mark Albin)
2012-2015 Chess Connections II (Captain Adia Onyango)
2016-2017 Bad Bishops (Captain Jose Leon)
2017-2020 Chessismo (Captain Carlos Rodriguez)

Jerald and Beejay helped to host the historic 2001 Wilbert Paige Memorial tournament at the Hotel Teresa on 125th street. Hicks could be seen working the demo boards and providing all of the support that organizer Jerry Bibuld needed.

Beejay Hicks working the demo boards

Beejay Hicks working the demo boards
at the Wilbert Paige Memorial in Harlem, New York.
Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

Beejay Hicks, Abdullah Abdulbashir, Adia Onyango, Walter Harris, Kenneth Moody at 2014 World Open in Arlington, Virginia. They are posing with fellow New Yorker Walter Harris (second from right), the first Black player to earn the National Master title. Photo by Daaim Shabazz.

According to Jerald Times, Beejay had a younger brother Kenny Hicks who won the Harlem championship in 1977. They were extremely close and shared a passion for chess. Kenny’s death inspired Beejay to take a different direction in life and become more focused on chess, and of course, his weightlifting.

Pearline and Beejay Hicks
Photo courtesy of Pearline Hicks

Pearline Hicks stated that Beejay went all over New York to play chess and it was his main passion along with weightlifting. Initially, she said that she initially impressed by his serious demeanor and his muscular build, but that behind this imposing presence was a soft heart. They were to celebrate their 23rd anniversary on April 2nd.

Pearline laughed when reflecting on his “corny jokes.” His jovial spirit belied his tough persona. It is a tremendous loss for the New York chess community and Harlem at-large. Chess players send their well-wishes to the Hicks family and thank him for his service. Beejay leaves behind his beloved wife Pearline and son, Nicholas Hicks, a 19-year old student at Hostos Community College.

Please send any cards, well-wishes and donations to:

Pearline Hicks
227 W. 140th Street, Apt. #1A
New York, NY 10020

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