Sidebar: The large chess board drew my attention as I walked by. I had to stop and watch for a while.
I talked to Ernest Levert Jr., the Founding Director of The Royal Oak Initiative (ROI) at Juneteenth on the Ave.
Why participate in Juneteenth on the Ave?
I have been connected to Maroon Arts Group for seven to eight years. I went to Ghana with a group of some of the leaders of the Maroon Arts Group. I have been tapped in with them for a long time. That’s my village right there. Beyond that, it is an opportunity to celebrate with community. I am from Texas. Juneteenth hits a little different for me. It is a reminder that we have to constantly interrogate ourselves as to what freedom means. Freedom is joy, safety, and love. It’s all the things we experience at Juneteenth on the Ave. Why I chose to participate is to remind people that chess, critical thinking and open mindedness is a part of our culture. A lot of people can be intimated by chess. The more we expose people to the game, the less intimated they are. My goal is to find all the chess players. If I put out a chess board, it will attract the chess players and the chess curious.
Why did you start The Royal Oak Initiative?
I have been playing chess since about the fourth grade. The legend goes that I was at a book fair and picked up a book about chess. One of my earliest memories is being in fifth grade teaching second graders about chess in the library at school. Chess has always been a way for me to mentor to give back and connect with others. We started The Royal Oak Initiative in 2014. I just got out of The Ohio State University. I was reflecting on what my gifts and abilities were and what I had to give to the world. I knew that youth were a passion and I could play chess. I got connected with another mentor organization who were trying to incorporate chess in their program. So it was perfect. They were already established. We started in the Linden area, on the North side, the East side and the West side at Ashburn Center. We were able to test the curriculum. Our motto is, chess for wisdom and wellness. Our mission statement is to use the wisdom of chess to protect, heal and build community and a reminder that people are powerful and everything starts in the mind. Some people will convince themselves that they are not worthy, that they are not enough and they can’t. Those are all lies. When we were young, we believed we could do anything. The world convinces us that we can’t. We want to remind people of their super powers that they are royal by nature, and they can do anything they set their mind to do within the agreements of the collective. This is cooperative chess. Traditionally, for a lot of people, chess is toxically competitive. We want people to feel safe and seen.
Is there a space/place for females and/or beginners?
We are going to make space for all people. Our third rule is, everyone starts somewhere so be ready to learn and teach at all times. If you want more people to come into the community, you got to be willing to teach. A lot of chess players are not good at teaching. They forgot how they were taught. I teach one piece at a time. You learn your a,b,c’s before you put together words and sentences. When people start talking about how good they are, I like to talk about rule #2, no one leaves without taking a L (loss). Everyone takes a loss. We have a generation of people that are having a harder time dealing with losing or rejection. We stack those Ls up until they become wins. We are a people that often times have been taught to be afraid of failure and losing.
I will refer to feminine energy to answer the other part of the question. People say chess is competitive. Women are competitive too. For example, women who play basketball, women CEOs, etc. To say women are not competitive is a lie at best and propaganda at the worst. A lot of women don’t feel comfortable in some chess spaces because of how men have treated them. Our atmosphere is like a cookout. It feels real chill and familial. They have an initiative “Women In Chess” and the US Chess Federation. I reached out to them to ask, “What does it take to get more ladies into the game?” Not for us, but for the benefit of playing chess. Playing chess increases your reading scores, math scores, patience, focus, sportsmanship, critical thinking, analytical thinking, etc. If we bring more women to teach chess; then, young girls will see themselves. As a male, I make space.
You have explained rule #2 and rule #3. What is rule #1?
Rule #1: Know the name of your partner. Names are important. We learn the names of the chess pieces. For example, you are not going to say the little pointy piece referring to a bishop. You are not just a win or a loss.
Rule #2: No one loses without an L. If you do leave without an L (L is colloquial for loss, but L could be for lesson, if you take the time to learn and you take the time to remove your identity from your wins and your losses. We live in a society that wants us to be obsessed with our wins and our losses. Who is number #1? Which is rooted in scarcity. We don’t do that here. We operate in abundance. Someone came up and asked, “who is winning” when we were playing chess. I said, “we are winning.” We are here to get better together. We are sparring partners trying to make each other better.
Rule #3: Everyone starts somewhere. Be ready to learn and teach at all times.
Sidebar: L could stand for lesson if you learn something. Enough said.
When is the meeting for the beginners?
Every second and fourth Sunday at the chess center (80 Parsons Ave.) from 4:00 pm. To 8:00 pm. You learn the rules first. Then you learn the principles. If you just learn the principles, you will win most of your games.
On July 23, 2022 we are bringing out, Maurice Ashley, the first black grand master in the world.
Is there anything that I didn’t ask you that you think I should have asked you? If so, go ahead and answer that question.
People can get involved a couple of ways. We are a 501(c)(3) (he said for purpose) non-profit organization. Part of our vision is, to make chess available to all elementary school students. Become a member of the chess center. In July, we will be announcing our membership program ($10 per youth, and $20 for adults). We are looking for volunteers. If you have any interest in helping the next generation, we provide training. You don’t have to know how to play chess to become a role model in someone’s life and give back. Businesses can connect with me at email@example.com. Every piece on the chess board is important, has power, and has a purpose. As long as we work together and get everybody in the game, there is no way we can lose. Even if we do lose, we going to come back better.