Former Vaux Students Making the Grade

Salome Thomas-EL has been very busy these days as his new book, "I Choose to Stay," has been moving from the book stores at a brisk pace. The Chess Drum's Daaim Shabazz met with the author and one of his former students, Nathan Durant, after the World Open (in Philadelphia). Among other things, Thomas-EL discussed how life has changed since the release of the book. He had just returned from the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans  where he addressed 5000 students as well as 200,000 attendees at the festival. Certainly it has to be a humbling experience for the young Principal.

Salome Thomas-EL with Nathan Durant
(photo by Daaim Shabazz)

Thomas-EL's book signing was aired on C-SPAN 2 with great fanfare and success.  Perhaps the most touching part of the program was his recognition of the students who had developed under his tutelage.  It was apparent that Thomas-EL had played a huge role in the lives of these young men and women. Prior to the launching of the book, an article was run about some of his students and their progress after leaving Philadelphia's Vaux. Three of them are roommates at Kutztown University: Demetrius Carroll (18), Nathan Durant (19),  and Demetrius' cousin, Earl Jenkins (18).

In this article, many stark realities of inner-city life became apparent and it was important that these young men find themselves… and fast! "You need some sort of outlet to keep you on the positive side or you'll surely go down," Carroll was quoted as saying in the article.  "Chess has done everything for me," says Jenkins. Durant expressed similar sentiments and praised his mentor in the process. "The chess team became a cool thing. After that, academically, I soared. Mr. EL would not allow us to continue to be part of the team if we did bad in school. We had to set an example for the whole school and that motivated us to excel."

Thomas-EL's book is chock-full of similar stories and has made quite an impression on the Philadelphia community at-large.  These type of stories are not heard enough and perhaps there is a greater challenge to Black chess players to reach back and use the sport they love to reform the lives of children and teens. It can be done, and Salome Thomas-EL is yet another example of that.

Yvonne Wenger, "Chess is the springboard to success for three Kutztown University roommates" Reading Eagle (Philadelphia), 8 March 2003.

Kutztown University roommates, from left, Demetrius Carroll, Nathan Durant and Earl Jenkins credit the game of chess and their mentor in Philadelphia with helping them succeed in life. Photo by Reading Eagle Company.

Other Sources:

The Chess Drum, "Salome Thomas-EL on C-SPAN2,"  22 June 2003

The Chess Drum, "Book on Chess Triumph has "Staying Power," 14 June 2003.

The Chess Drum, "I Choose to Stay" now available at bookstores!!"  7 March 2003.

The Chess Drum, "Chess Coach unveils book about chess triumph at Philly's Vaux!"  26 January 2003.

The Chess Drum, "A Principled Chess Coach says, "I Choose to Stay,"  27 February 2002.

The Chess Drum (Historic Moments), "Roberts Vaux "Bad Bishops" (1977-1981)."

Roberts Vaux Chess Team website (1997-98)

Posted by The Chess Drum: 22 July 2003