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Maurice Ashley: Black Grandmaster No. 1

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Maurice Ashley, pondering a move. Wikipedia photo.

Most people who master the game of chess begin their studies around age 4. Maurice Ashley however, didn’t have that luxury. Born in 1966 in St. Andrew Parish on the island of Jamaica, Ashley grew up dabbling in checkers, card games, and dominoes.

“We didn’t have a lot of technology,” Ashley said during an interview with The Undefeated. “Television came on, but it was like 6 o’clock in the evening when the first show came on, so we learned to play a lot of games. Chess was one of those games … I kind of liked it, but I wasn’t into it because it was just a game like the rest of them.”

By age 12, Ashley relocated to Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood. While in school, he noticed that several boys played chess. Although he’d shown little interest in it earlier, he remembered enough about the rules to engage in a game with a friend. And he lost. This crushed his competitive spirit; he had to win.

Ashley began to read books about the game and practice techniques. “I was reading books about famous players all around the world; I wanted to beat those guys,” he said.

Consumed by the game, he wanted to play all the time. And for that, New York was the place to be. “In the mid-’80s in Brooklyn, in New York, it was crazy,” he said during a filmed interview with Hennessey US. “For me to have chess as an outlet, something that I always wanted to do, something that kept me away from the bullets flying outside … I was always inside studying chess. I just knew this is what I wanted to do all the time.”

During high school, Ashley joined what was called the Black Bear School of Chess, a loosely defined group of Black chess fanatics in Brooklyn, mostly in their late teens and early 20s, who also studied and played for hours at a time or sometimes all weekend. They gathered on Friday nights for chess rumbles.

Ashley soon began to compete in various city parks and in tournaments. The experience, he said, helped him to “mature, think about calculations, analysis and data. Chess is all these different pieces; the possibilities are very complex … That kind of complexity of the game is what keeps us coming back again and again.”

Being active in competitions and clubs opened doors. In 1999,  at the age of 33, he became the first Black person to achieve the highest rank in chess: grandmaster.

Ashley’s passion for chess is his life. Today, he teaches and mentors those in underserved communities with an interest in the game. “I didn’t have those kinds of role models when I was growing up, so to be a role model now, to represent a sport and represent my family, that, to me, is absolutely a big responsibility, and I embrace it,” he told The Undefeated.

There are about 1,300 chess grandmasters worldwide. Today, only three are Black. The others are Pontus Carlsson (2005) and Amon Simutowe (2007).

Bay Area

THE DISTINGUISHED JARENA LEE AWARD PRESENTED TO OAKLAND SENIOR PASTOR

Parks Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 476 34th Street Oakland, California is excited to announce that Rev. Dr. Rosalynn Brookins, senior pastor was awarded the auspicious Jarena Lee Award.

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Historic rendition of Jarena Lee, the first female preacher in the A.M.E. church

  Dr. Rosalyn Brookins. Courtesy of Parks Chapel A.M.E. Church.

Parks Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, located at 476 34th Street Oakland, California is excited to announce that Rev. Dr. Rosalynn Brookins, senior pastor was awarded the auspicious Jarena Lee Award.

Jarena Lee (February 11, 1783 – February 3, 1864) was the first female authorized to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. History shows she was born into a free, Black family. Lee saw the immorality of slavery.  At a time period of segregation and inequity, A.M.E. Church founder Richard Allen gave her the opportunity for her voice to be heard despite the fact that there were no provisions for a female to preach. Rev. Lee showed determination to let her voice be heard and to share the holy word, despite racial and gender issues.  Further, Lee was the first African American woman to have an autobiography published in the United States.

During the 5th Episcopal District A.M.E. Founder’s Day Service, the Award was presented to Brookins by Rev. Carieta Grizzell, president of Women in Ministry and pastor of Murph-Emmanuel Church in Sacramento, Ca.  This esteemed award is the highest commendation that a female minister can receive in the A.M.E. Church.

There are many parallels between  Lee and  Brookins.  They both blazed a path forward through adverse circumstances and applied the lessons they learned to their spirituality.  Their similar experiences as female ministers reinforce their relationship with God.  They maintained a steadfast hope in and a strong love for his divine majesty.  

Brookins is the only Episcopal supervisor of the Women’s Mission Society for the A.M.E. Church to be given a pastoral appointment as senior pastor.

Brookins earned her doctoral degree from Payne Theological Seminary in 2018, making her the first inaugurated female to be conferred with the noted degree.  She was the commencement speaker during the graduation.  Her dissertation was entitled “The Rebirth of the Woman’s Prophetic Voice: Using Liberation Theology to Impact the Local Congregation.” 

In 2018, Brookins presented a pilot program in South Africa and subsequently launched the Global School of the Prophets.  While there are many prophetic schools, this is the only type of school that ministers to both clergy and lay women. Brookins exudes great enthusiasm and passion about teaching and she graciously shares her expertise regarding prophecy.  Her courses provide an overview and structure that encourage individuals to develop, explore and expand their prophetic knowledge and understanding.   

The highly organized and comprehensive curriculum includes coverage of the Introduction and  Origin of the Prophetic; Prophetic Call;  Prophetic Ministry;  Prophetic Terminology; Nine Prophetic Traits, and Prophetic Training and the Church.   Students currently participating in the second cohort of the Global School are from the United States, India, Zimbabwe, Jamaica, Belize and Trinidad. 

Just as Lee showed a drive and commitment to serve,  Brookins has the same qualities.  She is an honorable, steadfast pastor who is obedient to all that God has called her to do.  She is a strong leader, and a visionary who genuinely loves preaching the word of God.  Rev. Brookins’ unconditional love and genuine personality has touched the hearts of many.  Her prophetic ministry, powerful sermons and prayers consistently instill hope and inspiration. 

Lee traveled extensively preaching the word of God.  Rev. Brookins has preached the gospel in multiple pulpits across the country, including Canada, Zambia, India and South Africa. 

Regarding his mother’s receipt of this prestigious award, Sir Wellington Hartford Brookins said “I am extremely proud of the accomplishments of my mother.  She is an example of perseverance and daring determination.  She inspires me to move forward every single day and that’s why this award means so much to her and to me.”

Brookins said she is “humbled that the men and women of God felt I deserved such an award. I am moved that God saw it fitting for me to receive such an honorable award.”

The Jerena Lee Award is an amazing recognition of the contributions of Rev. Brookins to the theological foundations of the church as a whole.

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Black History

John McHenry Boatwright: Operatic Bass-Baritone

  As a member of the Hamburg Opera in Germany, he sang the lead in the 1967 premiere of Gunther Schuller’s Visitation. In 1969, he took part in the premiere performance of Dave Brubeck’s “The Gates of Justice.”

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John McHenry Boatwright.

 It was in the sanctuary of St. James A.M.E. Church in Tennille, Ga. that John McHenry Boatwright (1928–1994) developed a passion for music. He was seven years old at the time and a natural piano player. 

     Boatwright was the youngest son of Levi and Lillie Boatwright. His father was a switchman in Tennille’s rail yards. He found himself out of work when the Great Depression struck in 1929. Boatwright’s mother helped to support the family by working as a cook in a private home.

   The people around young Boatwright who’d experienced his gift knew that his talent would go unrecognized if he stayed in the South. So, his older sister invited him to live with her. By age 12, he’d abandoned familiar surroundings for opportunities in Boston.


    As time progressed, his talent exploded. Young Boatwright would soon face the conundrum of finishing high school or playing jazz music. His choice was the latter, yet he wouldn’t allow his education to suffer. He completed his high school studies at night.


    He later attended the New England Conservatory of Music. To afford the tuition fees, he worked as a cab driver, elevator operator, and at other odd jobs. Throughout those times, Boatwright focused on developing and training his voice. Near the close of his studies there, the voice became his major. In order to support these lessons, he tutored other students in the art of singing. Boatwright received a bachelor’s of music degree ‘sin 1950 and a bachelor of music in voice in 1954 from the conservatory. 

    After his 1956 debut in Boston, he sang the lead role in Clarence Cameron White’s “Ouanga,” presented by the National Negro Opera Foundation at the Metropolitan Opera House. In 1958, he made his operatic debut with the New England Opera Theater in the role of Arkel in Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande.” His performance led to an invitation to sing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.


    Boatwright later created the central role in the 1966 premiere of Gunther Schuller’s “Visitation.” He repeated the role at the Metropolitan Opera. He also performed the role of Crown in the first complete stereo recording of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” with the Cleveland Orchestra.


    As a member of the Hamburg Opera in Germany, he sang the lead in the 1967 premiere of Gunther Schuller’s Visitation. In 1969, he took part in the premiere performance of Dave Brubeck’s “The Gates of Justice.”
    Making numerous appearances as a recitalist, he sang for several presidents at the White House. This included his performance during President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration.

    Boatwright was the recipient of several music prizes, among them are two Marian Anderson Awards and first place in the National Federation of Music Clubs competition.
    For many years Boatwright taught voice at Ohio State University. At his death in 1994, he was a professor emeritus at the university’s school of music. He was buried in Bronx, N.Y.

 

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Black History

Fishing With Her Father Led Joan Murrell Owens to a Career in Marine Geoscience Caption: Joan Murrell Owens

Owens said during an interview, “Never give up on your dreams, in spite of the obstacles. There have been several points in my life when a door to my planned career closed and another, totally different door, opened. Though one door may seem to close, the other door can lead to the fulfillment of your dreams.”

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Joan Murrell Owens

   Women of color have been underrepresented in geosciences (sciences dealing with the earth). Between 1973 and 2016, the numbers were bleak: only 20 Native American, 69 Black, and 241 Hispanic or Latino women received PhDs in all three geoscience subdisciplines combined—marine geographers, paleogeography, and physical geographers—according to Nature.com. 

    These numbers amount to 1.46% of all doctorates awarded in over 40 years and have made little to no movement toward change.

     “A lack of diversity and inclusion is the single largest cultural problem facing geosciences today,” Kuheli Dutt, the diversity officer of Lamont-Doherty Observatory at Columbia University, told Nature Geoscience journal.

    Upon graduating from the George Washington University in Wash., D.C., in 1985, Joan Murrell Owens (1933–2011), became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in geology. Shortly after, as a coral biologist, she began to transform the understanding of the evolutionary relationships of button corals.

Owens was born in Miami. Her father, a dentist, was an avid fisherman, so the family often went on weekend fishing trips. Being so close to the Atlantic Ocean piqued her curiosity about its habitats. Thus, marine biology was always a subject she dreamed of studying. 

    A lover of books, “The Silent World by Jacques Cousteau” became young Owens’ favorite read. She graduated from Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School in 1950. That same year she entered Fisk University on a scholarship and soon found that marine biology courses were not offered. That was not uncommon for historically black colleges and universities during that time. She studied fine arts instead, becoming an educator at a psychiatric hospital. 

    Owens later became a member of Howard University’s faculty, specializing in remedial English. During the 1960s, she relocated to Newton, Mass., where she worked for the Institute for Services to Education. There she was tasked to design programs for teaching English to educationally disadvantaged students. The Upward Bound program of the U.S. Department of Education was developed from these programs.

    Unfortunately, Owens suffered sickle cell anemia. Her geosciences research projects were then limited because of her inability to dive underwater to search for specimens. But that did not derail her dreams. She instead performed a laboratory project at the Smithsonian Institute, working with coral samples collected by a British expedition in 1880. 

    Owens said during an interview, “Never give up on your dreams, in spite of the obstacles. There have been several points in my life when a door to my planned career closed and another, totally different door, opened. Though one door may seem to close, the other door can lead to the fulfillment of your dreams.”

   Despite all the walls she tore down to navigate her career path and follow her heart, Owens went on to contribute valuable knowledge to the field of marine science. In 1994, her work added a new species to the genus Letepsammia.

Source: https://oumnh.ox.ac.uk/joan-murrell-owens

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Murrell_Owens

Image:  http://www.thehundred-seven.org/womenstem.html

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