by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Your Black World

November 14, 2011 

Black males are disproportionately represented in nearly every stereotype known to man.  They lead the nation in incarceration, unemployment and drop out rates.  But another area where black boys are over-represented is among the number of chess masters in the United States, reminding us of the tremendous genius of young black men when placed in motivational environments.

Less than two percent of the members of the United States Chess Federation are masters.  There are 47,000 members in all.  Only 13 of those masers are under the age of 14.  Three of these 13 masters are African American young men.

All three of the men live in New York City:  Justus Williams, Joshua Colas and James Black Jr. All of them were actually named masters before their 13th birthdays.

“Masters don’t happen every day, and African-American masters who are 12 never happen,” Maurice Ashley, a grandmaster told the New York Times. “To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity. You normally wouldn’t get something like that in any city of any race.”

Daaim Shabazz, a professor at Florida A&M University, keeps a website that records the number of African American chess masters in the United States.  According to his site, 85 masters are African American.   Justus was the first boy to meet the standards to become a master, with Joshua and James following later.

“I think of Justus, me and Josh as pioneers for African-American kids who want to take up chess,” James said.

The stories of these young men (who are not related), is a firm example of the potential of all black boys when given an opportunity to succeed.  A little encouragement and a chance to break the chains of problematic stereotypes has allowed these young men to become intellectual Michael Jordans.  Unfortunately, too many black boys are led to believe that their genius starts and ends on the football field or basketball court, but the truth is that the greatness we show in sports can be replicated in all walks of life.

I recall simply applying techniques I’d learned from playing sports to propel me in my quest for academic achievement.  I haven’t looked back ever since.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World coalition.  He is also a national spokesperson for the Ujamaa Initiative to support black-owned business. You can join the initiative by visiting  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.