By Janis Fontaine
When you encourage a child, Willie “James” McCray of Delray Beach believes, it’s like the ripples a pebble sends across a pond — they touch things you didn’t expect.
McCray has been sharing his love and his talent for the game of chess with kids in the West Settlers District, a historically Black area of Delray Beach, for more than two years. James Chess Club meets weekly at Delray’s Spady Museum, where McCray teaches kids to play the complicated strategy game.
McCray, 71, also holds chess tournaments with cash prizes every couple of months. The last tournament took place Sept. 3 in Libby Wesley Park. The next one will take place Nov. 28, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, possibly at Old School Square. Stay tuned, McCray says.
Chess presents many important principles, one of which is “You have to learn to lose to win,” McCray explains.
“It’s a brain game, a thinking game,” he says. “It’s about the choices you make and that you can’t blame anyone else. It also teaches life skills like patience, and it encourages the kids to think on their own.”
As kids practice and compete, they hear words like “options, obstacles and opportunities” and “choice, consequences and responsibility.” These are the lessons of chess, McCray says.
He learned them the hard way, on the streets, before he discovered the board game in his 20s. He hopes that learning chess will help kids avoid the pitfalls he had to overcome.
Each chess piece has its own strengths and weaknesses, just like people. “I like the knight,” McCray says. “You can always go back where you came from.”
But the pawn is perhaps the most inspiring piece to him.
“In life’s struggles, you don’t have to be the king to be something. Look at the pawn.”
The pawn, if it makes it all the way across the board, can become any piece it wants. “And you get eight chances!” McCray laughs.
The message: “You can be as successful as you want to be, but it takes sacrifice.”
Teaching chess to kids — one-on-one instruction can cost as much as $140 an hour with a player of McCray’s caliber — “is a gift that I can give,” he says.
James Chess Club meets from 5 to 6 p.m. Thursday and noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, 170 NW Fifth Ave. There is no cost. Call or text McCray for more information at 561-352-7145.
Fuller Center taking applications for mentors
Mentors are needed at the Fuller Center, a not-for-profit, education-focused organization based in Boca Raton.
The center is looking for mentors to help teenagers and children. Mentors focus on developing positive relationships and assisting with homework. They work after school for at least one hour weekly at one of the two Fuller Center locations in Boca Raton.
Applications from adults and teens 16 and older are being accepted. Mentors must pass background screening and commit to mentoring a minimum of once a week for one year. Training is provided.
Ellyn Okrent, CEO of the Fuller Center, said in an email, “We believe it’s critical that we come together to help one another, particularly as our students begin a new school year, after going through such a challenging time.”
The center will also launch the Promise Program in October with 16 participants ages 16-22 who need access to a positive, caring relationship with a non-parental adult mentor or coach. The participants will also learn leadership skills and get work experience.
If you can’t volunteer, you can “Adopt a Class” with a $1,500 contribution that will fund a classroom for the entire school year.
The East Campus is at 200 NE 14th St. The West Campus is at 10130 185th St. South.
For more information, contact Olga Bearhope at email@example.com or at 561-391-7274, ext. 136.