Rochelle Ballantyne, 17, a Brooklyn teenager featured in the documentary “Brooklyn Castle” is on track to become the first female chess master.
The documentary, filmed four years ago and released last month, follows students from Intermediate School 318 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Ballantyne was the only female in the team.
Ballantyne was recently profiled in Teen Vogue and she talked about her hopes, dreams and fears:
TEEN VOGUE: What motivated you to start playing chess?
BALLANTYNE: “My grandmother taught me to play when I was in the third grade. I was really active as a child, and she wanted to find a way to keep me relaxed and get my brain going.”
What’s driving you to become the first African-American female master in the history of chess?
“My grandmother. When I first started playing, she introduced to me the idea of being the first African-American female chess master. I didn’t think about it much because for me it seemed like an impossible feat, and I didn’t think it could happen. I wasn’t as focused and dedicated as I am now. I didn’t think I was a good chess player—people told me I was, but it wasn’t my mentality at that moment. But then after she died, that really affected me, because she was the one person that always had confidence in me. She never pushed me, and she always respected me for who I was. I have to reach that goal for her.”
One of the issues raised in this documentary is that I.S. 318 is facing budget cuts, and the chess program is in jeopardy. What do you want audiences to know?
“Kids have achieved so much because of the chess program at I.S. 318, and now because of budget cuts, that program might not be there anymore, and that’s really horrible. It’s so sad that you can take out money from schools because education is what allows you to succeed in life. My brother goes to I.S. 318 now, and the chess team might not be able to go to nationals. When people watch the movie, I want them to see how important the school is to all of us, and how it molded our lives. We have to pave the way so that other kids can achieve what we’ve achieved.”
At I.S. 318, more than 60 percent of the students come from families with incomes below the federal poverty level, according to the NY Times. But that isn’t holding the chess team back, in April the school became the first middle school team to win the United States Chess Federation’s national high school championship—yes, the middle school beat out some the nation’s top high schools like Stuyvesant in Manhattan and Thomas Jefferson in Alexandria, Va.
The 2012 World Youth Chess Championships to be held in Maribor, Slovenia from November 7-19.
Watch the trailer for “Chess Master” below and visit Teen Vogue to read more from Ballantyne.