Chess and Community

Chess and Community founder Lemuel LaRoche plays a game with 12-year old Sham Colbert at Little Italy pizzeria in Athens, Ga., on Friday, Nov. 21, 2014. LaRoche talked to Colbert about staying focused on the game and how playing can help you stay focused in life.

The sixth-annual Chess & Community Conference will be held this Saturday, April 7, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Classic Center. This event is put on by Chess & Community, a local nonprofit organization, and is open to the public.

Using the game of chess, Chess & Community encourages youth community members to pursue success in academics, develop their critical thinking skills and become involved with other community groups.

The event will consist of a chess tournament, guest speakers, scholarship awards, an art show, local vendors and a tech corner.

This year’s theme, “Choose Your Path, Make a Move,” was chosen to focus on an issue in the community, said Lemuel LaRoche, the founder and executive director of Chess & Community.

“You make your path, you make your move. If you follow your path, you will end up victorious,” LaRoche said. “We take a theme we see as necessary and merge it with the event to show it to the community. It relates to chess but lines up with life.”

Athens natives Kevin Dious and Shane Sims will be speaking at the event. Dious, a graduate of Clarke Central High School, now works as a Reddit software engineer. Sims grew up in Athens, served 20 years in prison, and now works as a motivational speaker and activist in his community.

“These are all people who grew up in Athens, and look at the path they choose,” LaRoche said.

The chess tournament is one of the biggest aspects of the event. Students from across the state of Georgia, from elementary to high school, will come together to take part in the competition. Teams of three will compete for a first place crown.

A large focus of the event is creating unity between community members in Athens, according to LaRoche.

“We talk about football, but nobody talks about the chess players, the great artists, the essay writers,” LaRoche said. “This allows us to highlight some of the jewels we have in the community.”

LaRoche also noted the importance of allowing students to lead the event, and allowing them to use their skills and talents in their community.

“The kids are leading the whole thing,” LaRoche said. “It helps to show Athens what happens when we give our youth the chance to run things, a creative license.”

Justice Served, the name of one event that involves both Athens-Clarke County police and Athens students, allows members of the police force to participate in a game of chess with students.

The idea behind this event is to encourage positive relationships between the players and encouragesthem to break the negative stereotypes they may have about poilce.

The Chess & Community Conference has grown since it started, beginning with around 150 people in 2012 to more than 600 in 2017. The organization eventually moved from the University of Georgia campus to the Classic Center because of its continual growth.

“Eventually we want an international presence,” LaRoche said. “Let’s bring all aspects of the community together.”

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