There are plenty of things to learn from chess, but Diamond Abdus-Shakoor's dad says this is the most important: Win with grace, lose with dignity.
Abdul Abdus-Shakoor says Diamond soaks up everything that chess teaches her. Patience. Humility. Perseverance.
Diamond is very, very good.
She hasn't been beaten yet on her East Columbus Elementary chess team. The 9-year-old plays grown men in coffee houses and often wins. She has won five national titles in her age group since she learned to play about two years ago, including one in Arizona this month. Her dad says she was the only African American girl competing.
"I play her. She beats me," he said. "It's hard to keep her motivated and keep pushing her."But Abdus-Shakoor is always standing behind her. He trumpets her successes and makes pitches for her on Twitter (Diamond would love to meet Oprah soon! She would like to play Will Smith in a chess match! Check out YouTube!) and e-mails news releases when she rocks at a tournament.
To the single father, there is nothing more important than helping pave the way for Diamond's bright future. He said that is why he does whatever it takes, even when that means asking for donations at gas stations to help fund her trips.
It's one reason he coaches her chess club at East Columbus.
"I get to be wherever my daughter is and help other kids. It's a win-win," he said.
During practice, Diamond gives up her queen before play to handicap herself. At a recent practice, Abdus-Shakoor set up a simultaneous exhibition in which she played 11 students at once.
"If somebody wins, I'll give you $1," he told the students. Diamond took a few seconds at each board and before long had started collecting pieces.
"She can be beat," Abdus-Shakoor told the students. But not that day.
You figure a third-grader with as many trophies as Diamond has would be a hot-dogger. But she has no post-game shuffle and casts no smirks at her fallen opponents. That's part of winning with grace. And maybe that's why the other kids in the club don't resent her for being good. They respect her for it.
"I learn from my mistakes and her mistakes," said fifth-grader Noah Jones-Smith, who has lost only to Diamond during club play.
That's what it's all about, Abdus-Shakoor said.
"Chess is bigger than me and my daughter. It's a window into their world. I'm trying to prepare them for life," he said.
The woman who grew Columbus City Schools' chess program agrees. Students who play learn how to interact with one another, think critically, compete with grace. Even after the district cut funding for chess coaches a few years ago, clubs like the one at Diamond's school lived on.
There are clubs in 77 schools with more than 2,700 students playing. And there have been several children like Diamond.
"Once you get a kid who has won a trophy for the first time, it's exciting. It's fulfilling for everybody on every level that cares about kids in the schools," said Francie Nolan, who started the program in the mid-'80s.
She's gotten to know Diamond and her dad, and thinks Diamond's name is fitting.
"She sparkles," Nolan said.
Other girls and boys in Diamond's club are waiting to shine, too. Abdus-Shakoor wants to take them to a national tournament; there are two big ones in central Ohio this spring, but registration and transportation cost money. He and Nolan say that's the biggest obstacle.
The talent is there. The kids have been waiting patiently and soaking up everything they can from their chess coaches and standout players like Diamond.
"My dad tells me to have fun. He tells me it's just a game," Diamond said. "But it's not just a fun game. It's an excellent game."
I am very proud of this father and his work with his child. It is no easy thing to teach a young 'un how to play chess when there are so many other faster-paced options available for them. I taught my two youngest the basic moves ... but, we never were able to follow-up with enough time playing the game for them to pick up a love or appreciation for it. This article inspires me to try again!
Are you a chess player?
NOTE: This post is part of an ongoing effort by this blog (and others) to ensure that positive and uplifting news by and for people of African descent is regularly shared with our blog readers. Please let me know if you come across an article or other information about someone or something that you think worthy of our weekly Good News Tuesday blog meme!