GM Ashley in "America: Beyond the Color Line"

W.E.B. DuBois once stated that "the problem in the 20th century will be the color line." Perhaps it is also applies in America's 21st century. While Blacks in America have made strides in certain industries, disparities are ever-present. GM Maurice Ashley appeared on Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) as part of the "America Beyond the Color Line" Black History series.  Henry Louis "Skip" Gates has traveled the country with the expressed purpose of investigating progress (or lack thereof) in Black communities since Dr. Martin Luther King's civil rights era. Other segments included many influential figures in the political and entertainment realm.

Ashley sat across a chess board with Gates in Washington Square Park, a main watering hole for "pick-up" chess.  This is a place where egos are crushed and legends are born. With bystanders watching the interview intently, Ashley described his humble beginnings as a 12-year old immigrant from Kingston, Jamaica with a fondness for playing games.

After beating all of his childhood friends in games such as dominoes and checkers, he played chess with a friend at Brooklyn Tech high school and was "destroyed." "It was ugly," Ashley emphasized. After this harsh lesson, he found a book in the library on chess, became hooked and it was this moment that taught him the value of preparation in chess. That was his spark.

GM Maurice Ashley at 2002 Foxwoods Open. Copyright © 2002, Jerome Bibuld.

"Chess teaches you to defer gratification. Many of our kids… in this society… they want everything NOW."

~GM Maurice Ashley~

Ashley's discussed the benefits of chess in the usual parlance, but one interesting point made during the interview was that chess teaches you to "defer gratification."  He reasoned that in chess if you grab something, or make a hasty decision, you pay the ultimate price. "Chess demands that you use your mind,"  he asserted.

Ashley took Gates on a tour of the Harlem Educational Activity Fund (HEAF) organization which was designed to provide after-school program to help inner-city children excel. One point that was made was that many of the youth joined the program because of chess. What was so impressive was the eyes of determination of one student who stated "he wanted to be a Grandmaster."

The success of this program was due, in no small part, to the role Ashley played as the Director and the role of National Master
Jerald Times, an instructor. Despite the fact that the funds ran out for that program, other initiatives are starting to surface which will provide such a positive outlet for Black youth. Of course, Black youth will also need to rely on their own communities to provide these types of programs as well.

Posted by The Chess Drum: 5 February 2004