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Guest opinion: Executive director of Chess for Success says admitting society has the a problem is the only way to address it.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Bertin Toscano Martinez shakes hands with Erin Reaney after her 2015 win, during the Chess for Success regional tournament.It's been a hell of a time for our country, our friend, and our families. I spent several days bouncing between various emotions and lots of conversations. As I read about protests and all the statements different organizations are issuing, I wondered where we fit in as a Black run (but white controlled) organization trying to impact the low-income and BIPOC (Black, immigrant, people of color) communities.

For many people talking about race is a political issue, for some it's a moral issue, but for me it's a personal issue. It's about my life and my sons' lives.

My goal isn't to chastise or guilt you, but to help you grow, and to unify us. Here's the big idea I hope/pray/need you to adopt and carry forth into the world:

We are all harmed by racism.

Yes, even white people. Racism isn't something solely suffered by Black and brown people. Racism crushes dreams, kills people, cheats us out of loving relationships, puts brown kids in cages and Black men behind bars, it erodes our humanity and makes a joke of America and the American way of life. Racism separates us, makes us all scared and fights against love. Racism makes you a worse you and keeps me from being my best me.

But there's hope. You have a special role in wiping out racism. People dance around the term "white supremacy," but that's what is going on. American culture prioritizes white peoples, white dreams, white safety and white demands. Therefore, white people must demand racial justice. It's not enough for you to just not be racist, you must actively work to destroy racism whenever and wherever you see it even if, especially if you are benefiting from it.

And you are benefiting from it, all the time.

Don't hide your head in shame about it, don't run from it. Embrace it. Embrace the privilege you've been given and accept the responsibility that comes with that privilege.

Let's talk, let's make a plan, let's see change happen. For my sons, my nieces and every other person whose life has been shown to not matter. I'm begging you, please do something.

I have been leading Chess for Success for one year. I'm honored to be able to do it. Watching the children in the program find their voice and a supportive community engaged around a game like chess has been life changing. We teach the students that everyone is equal at the chess board. Everyone has the same opportunity to use their skills.

Kids and parents tell me their stories of friendship and acceptance all the time. Whether it's the foster child that said in all placements they find chess club because that is where they belong. Or, the second grader who came up to me and said: "I never thought I would be good at anything, now I think I can do anything." Those are the stories we have over and over again. Those are Chess for Success stories.

Everyone has a role to play in making our society better. Chess for Success will continue our work to show children that they are defined by their intelligence and grit. I encourage you to find a way to help in your community.

Gresham resident Curtis Young is executive director of the Portland-based nonprofit organization, Chess for Success, which helps children develop skills for success in school and life through learning chess.


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