They’re calling her a “Chess Cinderella.” Dyhemia Young is a 16-year-old chess star who won a coveted wild card seat in the prestigious all-girls annual Susan Polgar Girls’ Invitational chess tournament in Lubbock, Texas. But there were a couple obstacles standing in her way. For one, airfare from Young’s home town of San Francisco to Texas was steep, and then Young’s mentor Adisa Banjoko had trouble locating her when he heard the news about her invitation.
Banjoko mentored Young in chess through the Hip-Hop Chess Federation, a non-profit that uses music, chess and martial arts to help young people in rough neighborhoods navigate their tricky lives.
It turned out that Young had been bouncing around the foster care system for the last three years, and it was only after finding a missing person’s poster and scouring leads that led them to the San Francisco police that Banjoko was able to get ahold of Young.
Young said that chess, which she only started playing in ninth grade, was one thing that helped her focus on her studies despite the rest of her struggles.
“I had to focus on my studies,” Young told the Los Angeles Times. “I messed up in school in ninth-grade year. I had a lot going on in my home situation. But every time Adisa cracked open a board at the library, I wanted to play.”
“Chess kept me going. It kept me motivated and kept me trying.”
Still, with further unexpected travel costs, getting Young to the tournament would be tough. With just days away before the tournament, Young and Banjoko were still raising money for the trip. But in the last moment Jada Pinkett Smith, who happened to see a writeup of Young’s story in the Los Angeles Times, stepped in to help Young get to Texas. Young didn’t advance very far in the tournament, but last Friday she won a $40,000 scholarship to Texas Tech, which hosted the chess tournament.
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