When Terry Allen was a student at the CCA Academy of Youth Connection Charter School he became interested in chess, the ancient game that has its roots in Persia. Attracted to its intellectual discipline and the emphasis on critical thinking skills, Terry began to encourage his classmates to consider chess as an option in their choices of extracurricular activities. Around the same time Terry had an opportunity to join an On the Table event series hosted by the Chicago Community Trust designed to create conversations that inspire communities and neighborhoods to work together to make communities stronger, safer and more dynamic. Encouraged by his community, Terry reached out to Renaissance Knights, a chess foundation founded by David Heiser, a veteran police officer from the northern suburbs and his wife, Sheila.
The foundation had just begun a partnership with the Chicago Police Department to provide engagement opportunities year-round to students from diverse communities in Chicago who participate in chess programs. Now Chicago policemen from districts all over the city are joining student chess players during lunch or after school to play chess and prepare for tournaments.
We caught up with the Summer Cops and Kids Chess Initiative at Whitney Young High School this week where officers from three districts and recruits from the Police Academy were competing with young people whose levels ranged from ranked high school players in the state and city to beginners in speed chess. Terry was engaged in teaching a new move to Police Academy Recruit Brian Bone who said, “I’ve never tried it before but it’s a good a chance to talk with people in our community and learn something new.”
“I didn’t think it would take off as well as it did,” reflects Terry. “It started as a way to expose people to something different.” A little over a year later, the program, which promotes non-violence and fosters ongoing positive relationships between students and police officers, is in multiple schools and planning to expand in the fall. Terry, soon a freshman at Northeastern Illinois University where he plans to major in either journalism or technology, anticipates even more opportunities to share his passion for chess and spark conversations that build community.