Three African American Boys Become Chess Masters

And they're barely into their teen years.

By Noelle de la Paz Nov 16, 2011

Before his 13th birthday, Justus Williams became the youngest African American chess player to earn the master rank. Of the 77,000 U.S. Chess Federation members, less than two percent are masters, and only 13 of those are under the age of 14–which makes Justus’ accomplishment a rare achievement.

But it’s one that’s also shared by two other young African Americans. Last December, just three months after Justus’ success, Joshua Colas became a master player. And this past summer in July, James Black Jr. became a master as well.

Beyond their youth, the boys are making marks as African Americans reaching such prestige in a game with so few black players. According to the New York Times, Maurice Ashley, 45, the only African American to reach the top ranking of grandmaster, said the rarity is not surprising. "Chess just isn’t that big in the African-American community," Ashley said.

With supportive parents who must often shoulder the high costs of professional coaches and travel expenses for faraway competitions, the boys not only love the game (each one aspires to become a grandmaster by the time he finishes high school), but have an understanding of themselves as role models.

"I think of Justus, me and Josh as pioneers for African-American kids who want to take up chess," James told the Times.

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