Detroit PAL chess league is chance to heal police-community relations

Children, ages 5 to 18, sit 6 feet apart in front of tablet screens and move around on virtual chessboards in a battle of their minds.

Up to 50 children attend the Monday meetings to create space for social distancing.

“You couldn’t really trust (players) to touch pieces and not touch their faces,” said retired Detroit police officer Chevelle Brown, founder of I Teach Chess, a program dedicated to chess classes and camps.

The Detroit Police Athletic League started their youth chess program on March 22nd in collaboration with I Teach Chess. The benefits of chess include critical thinking, foresight, creativity, focus, and brain function.

I Teach Chess owner and former Detroit police officer Chevelle Brown (left) gives up missed opportunities to Detroit's Paige Orange (right) after their match ended in a tie during a tournament game in the youth chess league program hosted by I Teach Chess as a partner with the Detroit Police Athletic League at Detroit PAL in Detroit on April 26, 2021.

Robert Jamerson, CEO of Detroit PAL said, “Like most things, it’s fun when you make it fun.”

Interest in chess has increased since Netflix released the most watched miniseries to date, The Queen’s Gambit.

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The Netflix original is about an orphaned girl, Beth Harmon, who works her way up to world chess champion – a title reserved for men until she arrived.

Thomas Brodie-Sangster, left, as Benny and Anya Taylor-Joy in

The show, along with the Pandemic Escape, took chess to heights in popularity not seen since the glory days of Bobby Fischer.

In the Detroit PAL chess league, some of their own chess masterminds like award-winning internationals Khalid Proctor and Paige Orange have won the 2020 state championship. Charisse Woods, a world champion and the first black American to join the national champions, is also a PAL student from Detroit.

Charisse Woods, 14,]during the Detroit City Chess Club at the Detroit Institute of Arts in Detroit on September 20, 2019.

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“It should be celebrated and applauded just like you do after a field goal is scored or after a home run is hit,” said Jamerson.

But for Brown, mastery of chess is not her ultimate goal.

“I just want to expose people to the thought of chess,” said Brown.

Brown was a lifelong gamer herself and said she learned the game in 1984 and passed the skill on to her son. Schach said: “Teaches young people to think things through.”

And it won’t stop in Detroit.

Detroit-based Caleb Proctor (center) contemplates his next move as he sits at a table with his brothers during the Detroit PAL Chess League program run by I Teach Chess in association with the Detroit Police Athletic League on April 26, 2021 in Detroit PAL was conducted in Detroit.  Participant I switched to playing chess with an iPad due to COVID-19 and am sitting at the end of 8-foot tables for safety reasons.  The children take a half-hour break to do some physical activity with a Detroit police officer before playing chess every day during the six-week program for children ages 4 and up.

“My hope is to expose young people across the country to chess in the hope that they will learn not only what to think but also how to think about things,” Brown said.

According to Jamerson, PAL itself is focused on enriching the youth and strengthening relationships with the community.

“No matter what you do, most people have failed without someone else’s help,” said Jamerson.

Jamerson, a native of Detroit and PAL alumnus who had toured the county, returned to his hometown about eight years ago.

“I’ve had a chance to come back and really equip the youth with some things that I wish I had grown up with,” said Jamerson.

For Brown, returning to PAL is a chance to engage with her community, as she did in her years with the company.

Detroit's Caleb Benning (center) congratulates Detroit's Khalid Proctor (left) after Proctor won the chess tournament between the two of them during a youth chess league program organized by I Teach Chess in association with the Detroit Police Athletic League on April 26th in Detroit PAL was held in Detroit in 2021.

Brown remembered riding her police bike through the neighborhoods, stopping occasionally on her route to move around on a chessboard.

“I was part of that community,” said Brown.

More than half of her time with the troop was spent in community work, Brown said, which is now reflected in her time at PAL.

Jamerson said he hoped PAL could be an opportunity to strengthen police-community relations.

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“It becomes a reason for guides to be exposed to the community that they will actually monitor so that they understand the culture and understand the community and the dynamics of that community.

Cpl Marc Norwood (center) of the Detroit Police Department leads children in a jumping jack drill during a practice break during the I Teach Chess Youth Chess League program in association with the Detroit Police Athletic League on April 26, 2021 at the Detroit PAL in Detroit.

“When you start overseeing this community there is empathy and understanding for the people who live in this community, and the people in this community are now being exposed to some of those officials,” Jamerson said.

Children play chess every Monday from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at PAL Detroit headquarters at 1680 Michigan Ave. For more information, call 313-833-1600 or visit their website.

To donate to Detroit PAL, go to their website. If you would like your donation to be used for the chess program, please enter “chess” in the comments section.

Contact Minnah Arshad: [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @minnaharshad.

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