Chess and Community hosted its fifth annual Rhythm on the River fundraiser on Aug. 23 at Big Dogs on the River water recreation facility to raise money for its youth development programs through board games, food and live music.
Twister tarps, woven checkers mats, cornhole boards and child-sized chess pieces were scattered around the lawn for guests to play with. A volleyball net was strung up for those looking for a more active activity and several chess tables were set up in the shade.
Lemuel “Life” LaRoche, executive director of Chess and Community and a teacher at the University of Georgia’s school of social work, said the purpose of this event is to bring families and communities together.
Adults taught and played games with children, while others socialized and enjoyed the Jamaican food catered by Rashe’s Cuisine. LaRoche participated in a large game of chess between two groups of boys, encouraging them to work together and think about their moves.
After an hour and a half, a thunderstorm moved in and festivities were moved inside, but the rain didn’t stop the fun. Guests enjoyed live entertainment from LaRoche, who recited his own poetry. Hip-hop artist LB also gave a motivational and energetic musical performance.
“You have to think before you move,” LaRoche said, prompting his audience to recite the phrase back to him. “That’s what you need to do on the chessboard, and that’s what you need to do in life.”
LaRoche explained how the game of chess is used to teach youth how to think critically, plan ahead and strategize. The organization also gives its youth access to debate opportunities and book clubs.
“We believe in developing the next generation of critical thinkers in Athens,” LaRoche said. “Really give them the tools that they need to survive, to lead, to engage and to resolve some of the issues that they see in their communities and be part of the solution.”
The money raised from this event, as well as other fundraisers throughout the year, is used to fund development programs, as well as planned trips to other cities. Joseph Galvin-McCoy, an organizer of the event, explained how the Chess and Community travels to Washington D.C. every year to compete in a chess tournament.
Galvin-McCoy, 18, was formerly a youth of the organization but is transitioning into the role of an organizer and supporter. He appreciates having the opportunity through his organization to help set up and manage fundraising events like Rhythm on the River.
“The idea behind the organization is to use chess as a gateway for youth empowerment,” Galvin-McCoy said. “It’s to connect with youth and use the programs we have to enhance their understanding of the world around them.”