As students gathered in the classroom, one young boy assembled the chess board on the table ready to play the game.
The Paul Robeson Chess Club is an independent Mikyeil El-Mekki founded in 2005. El-Mekki grew up in Wynnefield and started playing chess when he was 4.
The chess club meets every Tuesday and Friday at the John C. Anderson Culture Center from 6 to 8 p.m.
This year El-Mekki said he is preparing his students to go to the Supernationals chess competition in Nashville, Tenessee held by the United States Chess Federation.
“So were looking to fund raise and get some advertisement out so we can get students there,” El-Mekki said.
He talked about chess student Richard Martin, 14, who led the team to the first city championship as the team’s captain.
“Ever since I got into chess, I have been on honor roll. It makes me different from the other children,” Martin said proudly. “It’s great coming here. It gives me something to do. I get to go out of the house and brush up on my skills.”
El-Mekki is the head teacher and said he is grateful to have two guest teachers volunteer their time to teach his students.
Robert Gist, a resident of Southwest Philadelphia, is one of the guest teachers. He helps six to eight children. Gist said he feels chess can provide important analytical benefits for African-American youth.
“Chess makes their mind act like a computer. It makes them count more. You hold values in your head while maintaining certain moves on the board and thinking about the next move,” Gist said.
Gist, an avid chess player also noted the benefits chess had for his son and how it enlightens them on reading comprehension and comradely with other children.
“Chess helps them with their analytical abilities,” Gist said. “It makes them look at a situation and assess it before they react and that’s so important for young African-American males.”
El -Mekki currently coaches two elementary school teams in addition to the Robeson club team. He never played in any chess tournaments until he became a coach.
“I didn’t know how much opportunity was there in chess. If I knew there were college scholarship opportunities like traveling and playing in national tournaments, I would have gotten involved on a deeper level,” El-Mekki said. “It was just a casual thing to me.”
Bobby Fishburn-Spivery,10 is a fifth-grader and is a chess club participant.
“I like coming here because I like chess. Practicing helps me improve in my play so I come here every once two or three weeks,” Fishburn-Spivery said.
He also explained that chess is unlike any other sport.
“It exercises your brain. It helps you learn things you might not learn if you don’t play chess like how to think and how to make sacrifices,” said Fishburn-Spivery “