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Teaching life lessons through the game of chess

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

A man, who has turned his life around, is helping to reach troubled youth through the game of chess. Eugene Brown delivered an inspirational speech to Kenmore East High School in Tonwanda students Tuesday. WBFO's Focus on Education Reporter Eileen Buckley says Brown's true-life-story was portrayed in the 2013 film "Life of a King" staring actor Cuba Gooding Junior. 

Brown is the founder of the Big Chair Chess Club. He started playing chess while serving time in a federal prison for a bank robbery.  

Credit Photo from Eugene Brown's Facebook page
Eugene Brown's Big Chair Chess House.

Brown explains that his troubles started during his youth while attending schools in Washington, D.C.  Now he uses the chess game to inspire and teach young children and teens to 'set a course' for better outcomes. 

“The biggest challenge of dealing with youth today is to really get their attention,” said Brown.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Eugene Brown waves to students following his presentation at Kenmore East High School.

Brown was invited to speak at the Tonawanda school following a fall field trip to Washington D.C. Ken-East Science Teachers Bob O’Connor and Tim Freeman showed the students the movie “Life of King”, then they had a chance to visit his chess house and had a chance to meet Brown.

Brown said he uses the board game as an example of life skills, improving concentration and self-discipline.

“Best advice is to try to engage them. One thing that engaged them is peer to peer – to find a young chess player that can have a message of hope,” explained Brown.

Brown told a packed house at Kenmore East you must 'always think before you move’ - a philosophy he spreads to assist troubled youth.

“If you keep going the way you are going, if you keep going down that dead end street, then you are going to prison and it’s a simple choice for you just to turn around and go the other way, but who’s going to be there? You gonna need some help to make them turn that corner, so if it takes chess, if it takes hip hop, you are going to have to have someone’s going to mentor them,” Brown said.  

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Kenmore East High School students packed their auditorium to hear Eugene Brown speak.

Brown even wove an analogy about street drugs during his speech. He told the students if you want to sell drugs, then why not go to college and become a pharmaceutical rep and sell to drug stores.

Brown said he’s learned life lessons the hard way, explaining how he was once 'a pawn' influenced by others. But Brown tells WBFO News chess has been the 'magic game' to help youth.      

“But the main thing is just too really get them and let them understand about the decision that they are making and where it will take them – their end game,” responded Brown.

Brown said high school students are just beginning to develop skills, but should envision the 'end' results to realize how their choices will affect their futures.  He also explained to Kenmore-East High School students that his work isn't just about 'inner-city' youth. Brown said using chess can be universal.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Ken-East Seniors Maggie Brooks and Taylor Windsor agree with Brown's message.

Kenmore East Seniors Maggie Brooks and Taylor Windsor agree with Brown's message.

“I thought that was great because I think there are different mind sets, depending on where you are. A lot of people have to think about the end and they are not and it’s just good to be reminded, especially when you are a senior, going off and having to think about where you are going to college and what we are going to do next,” noted Brooks.

“I would just say his message is definitely like very inspiration and it is defiantly something to think about as we move forward with our lives,” responded Windsor.  

As Brown turns 70 this year, he continues reaching thousands of children and teens across the United States, promoting his mission statement of 'teach the unteachable -- reach the unreachable'.