Chess can have a huge impact on students' lives. Just ask the first black grandmaster.

Brownsville is one of New York City's worst neighborhoods for poverty and crime.

But on one spring morning, the gymnatorium at PS 446 was overflowing with energy, packed with eager elementary students in their matching uniforms, all buzzing with excitement. Their howls and cheers filled the cavernous space, bouncing off the basketball backboards and shaking the school's crumbling foundation as the sound swelled to a cacophonous crescendo, and the chess team came charging down the stairs and —

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Yes, "chess team." You read that right.


Photo by Pedro Armestre/Stringer/Getty Images.

The guests of honor at this school-wide pep rally were heading to the National Elementary Chess Championships in Nashville. For some of them, their parents had never even left Brooklyn.

"A large piece of the achievement gap between lower and middle income students has to do with these kind of experiences," Meghan Dunn, the school's principal, told Upworthy. 

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Full disclosure: She's also my big sister. But it doesn't take familial bias to see the incredible advantages of rooks, pawns, and queens.

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“The only time that some of these kids are calm is when they're sitting at the chessboard," said Michael O'Gara, a teacher at PS 446 who oversees the Chess Club. "Their confidence is higher too. They're always being told they suck, someone on the playground or on the street saying 'I'm better than you.' But this is something where they can take pride."

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And they should be proud — in one category, their team ranked 22nd out of 50, which meant that each student got to bring a trophy home. (There were hundreds of teams overall.) That's a pretty big deal in a neighborhood with a median annual income of less than $16,000, and where less than one-third of the predominantly black population has a high school diploma.

Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images.

What's more, they've managed to make the Chess Club cool.

Even without the pep rallies, the Chess Club at PS 446 is treated more like a varsity sports team, according to Mr. O'Gara. That could be why the team has doubled in size since it started in fall 2012.

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Students even sacrifice their time on weekends to travel all across New York City to compete in competitions organized by Chess-in-the-Schools, a nonprofit organization that promotes chess for academic achievement in inner city schools. It's hard enough to get low-income students to school during the week; getting anyone to go from Brooklyn to Staten Island on a weekend is practically unheard of.

Photo by Pedro Armestre/Stringer/Getty Images.

Chess might sound like an unlikely escape for these students. But it worked for another Brownsville resident: Maurice Ashley.

You might recognize his name from a recent viral video where he totally owns a trash-talkin' hustler in a chess match in Washington Square Park.

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Ashley was born in Jamaica and emigrated to Brooklyn with his family when he was 12 years old. Growing up, he would watch his older brother play chess with friends, and while he understood the basic gist of it, it was never something he considered seriously.

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But that all changed in high school, after a friendly game with a classmate at Brooklyn Tech. As he said in an interview with Mashable, "A friend of mine was playing chess. I remembered the rules from Jamaica. I played him; I was a pretty smart kid and thought I'd beat him, and he crushed me."

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Intent on a rematch, he picked up a book on the game in hopes of learning a few tricks ... and he was hooked for life.

Maurice Ashley, right, playing chess in Union Square. Screenshot from Mashable/YouTube.

In 1999, Maurice Ashley was awarded the rare distinction of International Chess Grandmaster — making him the first black man to earn the title.

At the time, there were fewer than 500 grandmasters in the world, although there have been at least two other black grandmasters recognized since then. "African continent GMs do exist; but, according to the system of racial classification, I am the first black GM in history," he clarified in an interview with the U.S. Chess Federation. "It matters, and doesn't matter, all at the same time."

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But it wasn't just the color of his skin that set him apart from his peers. Where most chess masters are characterized as self-serious intellectual introverts, Ashley was always been outgoing and loves to share his passion for the game. ''There are not many Maurice Ashleys," said Allen Kaufman, the former executive director for Chess-in-the-Schools. "The typical grandmaster is an introvert and spends his time studying and playing rather than teaching kids.''

That's why Ashley opened the Harlem Chess Center — just six months after becoming a grandmaster.

While he was still on the path to grandmasterdom, Ashley had spent nearly a decade teaching chess as a part of the Harlem Educational Activities Fund, and he decided it was time to give back, knowing firsthand the value of the game's rewards.

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Also, he just loved the kids. As he told Mashable:

"Chess changes lives. I've coached kids in Harlem, in Brooklyn, in circumstances that are not easy. ... I've watched those exact same kids take the benefits of chess, whether it be critical thinking, better problem-solving, better concentration, better focus, and gone on to top universities around the country, to great jobs and careers."

Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

Ashley's right. Chess might be a game, but it also helps people overcome when life feels like a stalemate.

If you’ve never played, give it a try. If you know how, teach someone else.

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It doesn't matter if you live in Brooklyn or Boise — the simple elegance of the game can teach us  all about important skills like perseverance, strategy, focus, and even teamwork (which is particularly remarkable, considering it's a one-on-one game).

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And for those people who aren't even sure where their next meal is coming from, it shows them that a few lost pieces aren't the end of the game.

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Here's a video of Maurice Ashley offering some awesome advice for life, and for chess:

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

4-year-old New Zealand boy and police share toys.

Sometimes the adorableness of small children is almost too much to take.

According to the New Zealand Police, a 4-year-old called the country's emergency number to report that he had some toys for them—and that's only the first cute thing to happen in this story.

After calling 111 (the New Zealand equivalent to 911), the preschooler told the "police lady" who answered the call that he had some toys for her. "Come over and see them!" he said to her.

The dispatcher asked where he was, and then the boy's father picked up. He explained that the kids' mother was sick and the boy had made the call while he was attending to the other child. After confirming that there was no emergency—all in a remarkably calm exchange—the call was ended. The whole conversation was so sweet and innocent.

But then it went to another level of wholesome. The dispatcher put out a call to the police units asking if anyone was available to go look at the 4-year-old's toys. And an officer responded in the affirmative as if this were a totally normal occurrence.

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