HBCU Chess Classic on April 22nd!

The inaugural HBCU Classic will kick off April 22nd at Morehouse College and hopes to attract students from around the country to network… and compete for glory! The Chess Drum was informed about an HBCU tournament by Jamaal Abdul-Alim and contacted the organizer Shaniah Francis (Spelman College) on LinkedIn.

“I’m Shaniah the vice president of the Black Odyssey at Spelman, we’re having the first ever HBCU chess classic at Morehouse with Hampton, North Carolina A&T and Maurice Ashley will be hosting. We would like for FAMU to join us, and for you to write about us on The Chess Drum!

Shaniah Francis, Vice-President of Black Chess Odyssey. Photo by Shaniah Francis (LinkedIn)

Shaniah Francis, Vice-President of Black Chess Odyssey
Photo by Shaniah Francis (LinkedIn)

The Black Odyssey Chess Society

Francis has on her LinkedIn page as the Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of The Black Odyssey Chess Society. They will host a chess event on the 22nd designed to attract players from different Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Francis told The Chess Drum, “The broader purpose is to establish a connection across every HBCU that shares a passion for chess.”

The Black Odyssey organization is listed in the Morehouse College Student Life and Leadership directory. The description reads,

The Black Odyssey (TBO) mission is to construct community and establish a future in which tomorrow’s leaders are encouraged to be critical thinkers in all spaces, with a purpose to serve the greater good.

TBO takes a differentiated approach than the traditional RSO and aims to become a society indoctrinated in the study and teaching of chess strategies, and skills. With such minute offerings of chess programs and activities in predominately Black sBchools TBO fundamentally differs from the traditional organization through the offerings of a program strategically focused on chess which has failed to be adequately offered nor maintained by our institutions.

TBO cultivates and ensures a space in which students feel empowered to broaden intellectual capacity and analytical skills. Through chess play, communist interaction and a high growth setting players are expected to become more disciplined and well rounded.

Photo courtesy of Black Odyssey Chess Society

The Chess Drum also talked to the other co-founder and President Alan Cowan who is a senior at Morehouse College. He states that Morehouse has roughly 30 players in the chess club, but apparently has not yet been poised to compete in the Pan-American Intercollegiate tournament. He does envision a similar concept for HBCUs through which a sort of league can culminate into a championship. This may encourage more HBCU teams to compete in the Pan-Ams as Howard has done in the past few years.

Howard University at the 2023 Pan-Am Intercollegiate Chess Championship in Seattle
Photo by Howard Chess Club

HBCU Chess in Perspective

This idea has been posited by various HBCU groups in the past including Howard University, Hampton University, and now Spelman/Morehouse. This event will be held at Morehouse College which is just across the yard from Spelman and next to Clark Atlanta University. There have been strong players to attend these schools. Back in 2008, National Master Kayin Barclay matriculated into Morehouse College and is now Vice President at Advantage Capital.

National Master Kayin Barclay (Morehouse College – Class of 2012)
Photo Kayin Barclay (Facebook)

IM Stephen Muhammad attended Tuskegee University for a short time. FM William Morrison graduated from Morgan State University. This writer attended Clark Atlanta University for graduate school. There have been isolated pockets of chess activity at HBCUs, but it has been hard to sustain for various reasons.

Schools like Howard, Hampton, FAMU, Tuskegee, Morgan State, and Norfolk State have all had stints and more recently Spelman/Morehouse has stepped forward to mobilize this segment of the chess community. There has not traditionally been much chess activity at the Atlanta University Center, but Atlanta was once home to one of the most active clubs in the south. One of the challenges is bridging club

It’s been a while since there has been a club at FAMU but there is always chess on campus. The Rattlers hope to be part of the HBCU chess movement. Photo by Daaim Shabazz/The Chess Drum

All Roads to Atlanta!

Shaniah Francis added,

We will be hosting a chess mixer so there will be details sent out about that when I send over the other information. The prizes are trophies and medals. There is a large-sized trophy for teams and a medium-sized award for individuals.

TBO President Alan Cowan mentioned that he has gotten commitments from several schools and that there will be an appearance by GM Maurice Ashley. He stated that there is a registration form and a possibility to provide some financial assistance in terms of transportation for students attending the event. In a recently-released press release, the inspiration was given…

“As a Black-owned Chess Society, it’s imperative to recognize the lack of representation of chess in our community, and now it’s time to bring critical thinking to these spaces,” said Alan Cowan and Shaniah Francis, Founders of TBO. “While there is still much more to be done, creating a chess society and starting at the very institutions that we are in is a step in the right direction, and we are celebrating this concept with a chess tournament to allow students to showcase the skills they have gained from exposure to our organization in a high-growth setting with an even better reward.”

HBCU Classic Schedule

The Black Odyssey: https://morehouse.givepulse.com/group/752206-The-Black-Odyssey-Chess-Society


  1. Dear Teams,

    We are excited to invite your team to participate in our upcoming tournament, which is scheduled for April 22nd, 2023, at Morehouse College. This tournament is a thrilling history-changing event featuring the best teams from around the US at HBCUS competing for the top prize trophy and HBCU chess champion title.

    To participate in the tournament, your team must meet the eligibility criteria in our prospectus, which is available for download here. Additionally, we require all participating teams to fill out and submit the eligibility form, which can be accessed via this link.

    To ensure that the tournament runs smoothly, we request that all teams adhere to the tournament rules, which have been carefully crafted to ensure a fair and enjoyable competition for all participants. You can access the tournament rules via this link.

    Please confirm your team’s participation with the names and numbers of all players by March 22nd 11:59pm. Please note that spaces are limited, and participation in certain parts of the tournament will be allocated based on the number of participants from each school.

    Lastly, once all players are confirmed, we will meet with each team to discuss the need and potential funding for travel expenses. We will also send over marketing material such as graphics for you all to post about the event.

    If you have any questions or require further information, please do not hesitate to contact us at theblackodysseysociety@gmail.com.

    We look forward to seeing your team in action at the tournament!

    Best regards,

    Shaniah Francis
    Chief Marketing Officer
    TBO Chess Society

    +1 929.513.2727

  2. This is major! I was just making efforts to connect with chess explorers at Wilberforce University and Central State University here in Ohio! Very much looking forward to seeing this grow!

  3. From: Alan Cowan
    Sent: Wednesday, April 5, 2023 12:52 AM
    Subject: HBCU Classic UPDATES and NOTES

    Dear all,

    I hope this finds you well. We are 18 days away from the Classic and are so thrilled to have you join us! It will be a momentous occasion and we’re looking forward to seeing you all.

    Some updates and housekeeping notes before we see you on the 22nd:

    • The event will be held at the Morris Brown–Gloria L. Anderson Multipurpose Complex
      NOTE: More information can be found on our site
    • We made some adjustments to make the rules more clear, please see attached
    • If you have not done so please fill out both the Student Eligibility & Team Registration form (in exact format like the example)
      NOTE: Each member must email us a signed and completed copy of their Eligibility form
    • Also, given that the event is a USCF Rated tournament, each competing member must have USCF membership
      NOTE: You will not be able permitted to play unless you are registered

    Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions. Otherwise, be on the lookout for our future emails, and we can’t wait to see you on the 22nd!

    Alan Cowan
    The Black Odyssey Society | CEO & Co-founder
    http://www.tbosociety.com | (917) 679 3426

  4. Great to hear of this event! Are you guys considering any kind of outreach to young people maybe 6 years and older? Just need to get them interested early!

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