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In one of the most shocking achievements in sports history, the students at Intermediate School 318 Eugenio Maria de Hostos just won the national high school chess championships.  Yes, a bunch of middle schoolers took on and defeated the top high schools in the nation.  The win is compared to the best college basketball team defeating the team that won the NBA title.  The feat is impressive beyond words.

“This is the greatest achievement we’ve ever had, and probably ever will have,” said John Galvin, one of the coaches of the team.

Bill Hall, the executive director for the United States Chess Federation, said he has never seen anything like it.   Over the last 12 years, the IS 318 team has won over 12 national championships.  Two of the students, Justus Williams and James Black, are 13-year old chess masters.

“The chess geeks are the heroes of the school,” said Katie Dellamaggiore, one of the teachers at their school. “It’s cool to be really smart; it’s cool to be into chess.”

The students are the subject of the new documentary, “Brooklyn Castle,” which chronicles their achievements in chess.

In case you didn’t know, both Justus Williams and James Black are African American.  Their achievements symbolize the awesome intellectual power of so many of our black boys across America.  The tragedy is that Black and Williams likely have friends who are just as bright as they are, who’ve been duped into wasting their brilliance by dribbling a basketball or picking up a microphone.  Any fan of sports or hip hop can cite the tremendous intelligence regularly displayed by millions of black men who think that their only way to prominence is through sports or entertainment.

What is also interesting about the achievements of Black and Williams is that it’s not inconceivable that without proper guidance, both of these boys could have ended up in special education, or on medication after being diagnosed with ADHD.  Black boys across America have their futures stolen from them at a very early age by a school system that is more determined to control black men than it is to liberate them through education.  I understand this very well because Dr. Boyce Watkins was once one of those children.

So, while I openly celebrate the achievements of Black and Williams, I shed a tear for all the other millions of boys who became chess masters in a prison cell.  We must hang on to these sources of inspiration, share them far and wide and do everything within our power to ensure that our talented black boys find their way to greatness.  Yes, it’s very cool to be smart, and it’s time that we let the rest of our brothers in on that special little secret.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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