In 2012, Phillip Douglas's mentee and Sir Martin's cousin De'quan Walker Smith was gunned down next to Manual High School. Phillip Douglas and Sir Martin had been playing chess together since 2010 in Northeast Denver. For them, it was more than a game. During their chess matches, they would discuss how relevant chess was to the difficult struggles they faced in life. They created the vision for Make a Chess Move (MACM) where young people learn chess to “Make their next move their best move in life”.
Their extraordinary tenacity overcoming crushing personal tragedy coupled with a powerful positive attitude and sense of humor created a magnetism that immediately drew marginally engaged students. Phillip and Sir collaborated with Project VOYCE to teach the Challenging How Every Student Strategies (CHESS) curriculum at six schools and two non-profits. In 2013, Manual High School was struggling to hit 70% class attendance. MACM classes at Manual had 105% attendance. More youth came to class than were on the class roster.
The MACM team’s lives have been overwhelmed with systemic injustices that threaten the fulfillment of the American Dream of a just society. They have attended too many funerals, seen too many dropout, and have felt the sting of jail doors slamming shut. The MACM team knows the school-to-prison pipeline because they lived it. Yet their grit, intelligence, and compassion have survived.
Like many young people of color, Phillip Douglas and Sir Martin excelled in school. However, school was not enough. These systematic injustices tear families apart, cause deep grief for communities, and wound many for generations. Their academic success did not keep them off the school-to-prison track. Not all the critical-thinking skills developed in school could overpower the multiple risk factors they encountered daily. They learned to read, write, and do math, but they did not internalize the basic values to make the right decisions to stay out of jail.
Through the game of chess, MACM has designed a research-based curriculum that identifies and targets positive youth protective factors and the reduction of youth risk factors. At the core of MACM is a team of youth leaders and program facilitators who have grown up in the neighborhoods and attended the schools served by the organizations. MACM uses a research-based strategy to transform it's invaluable street grit into critical, ethical thinking to build a better world using the game of chess.