After having what he describes as a “life-altering experience” at the Million Man March, Quan Caston, a former U.S. Air Force reconnaissance photographer, returned from Washington, D.C., with a desire to make a difference in Milwaukee’s black community.
The end result was Chess Academix, an initiative that started as a tutoring program for “at-risk” children and has since evolved into a business that Caston is expanding nationwide.
Caston has created an 1,100-page curriculum for his program. In it, he relates the pieces on the chessboard to various elements of society.
The rook represents the home. The bishop represents spirituality. The knight represents law enforcement. The pawns represent the common people.
Though valued at only one point each, pawns are important, Caston says, because they help defend more valuable pieces and, once they reach the last row of an opponent’s territory, can become more valuable themselves.
Similarly, Caston tells the children, they can become more powerful in life if they reach their goals.
Caston also teaches the children how to play “inverted chess,” a version in which the board is rotated so that a black corner square is at the player’s right hand and the black pieces are on the offensive. It’s part of a kind of racial awareness that heightened in Caston’s mind when he found himself playing against a student who did not want to use the white pieces.
“There are advantages to being white,” Caston says he told the student, not realizing the double meaning the words seemed to hold until he spoke them.
“When I said that, it just resonated in my mind. This kid said, ‘I don’t care. I just don’t want to be white.’”
Through inverted chess, black moves first, essentially putting the black pieces in the same position that the white pieces usually are without altering the dynamics of the game.
In many ways, Caston and his comrades are doing the same thing for black youths. They are grooming them to become masters of their own destinies so that when these children grow up and go out into the world, they’ll be in a better position to succeed at the game of life.