First African-American Female Chess Master Could Be Brooklyn Girl

Rochelle Ballantyne is a 17 year-old teenage girl from Brooklyn who is on her way to becoming the first Black female chess master. Ballantyne is one among a group of teens from I.S. 318 middle school in Brooklyn who will be the stars of a new documentary called “Brooklyn Castle”. The documentary chronicles the outstanding achievements of the middle school students.

65 percent of the students at I.S. 318 middle school in Brooklyn are living below the federal poverty level but the school still holds close to 30 national championships and is the highest ranked junior high team in the country. Rochelle is unique because until she joined the team, all the champions had been boys.

Ballantyne has been profiled in Teen Vogue where she shared her story and how she has stayed motivated along her amazing journey to chess stardom. The Brooklyn teen says that her grandmother is the woman behind much of her success.

She says:

“My grandmother taught me to play when I was in the third grade. I was really active as a child, and she wanted to find a way to keep me relaxed and get my brain going. When I first started playing, she introduced to me the idea of being the first African-American female chess master. I didn’t think about it much because for me it seemed like an impossible feat, and I didn’t think it could happen. I wasn’t as focused and dedicated as I am now. I didn’t think I was a good chess player—people told me I was, but it wasn’t my mentality at that moment. But then after she died, that really affected me, because she was the one person that always had confidence in me. She never pushed me, and she always respected me for who I was. I have to reach that goal for her.”

Ballantyne said she likes being the only girl among the boys on her team but she’s glad to see more girls taking an interest in chess.

She went on to say:

“Winning is just that much more glorious because everyone expects me to lose. But many more girls are getting involved in chess, and I like that. The girls who play chess and go to national tournaments with me are my support system. The boys that I play with don’t understand.”

While it’s great to be seen as a chess star, Ballantyne also says that the fame comes with the pressure to win, saying,

“With the documentary coming out, the pressure is going to increase,” she said. “It’s a bittersweet feeling to be a girl and one of the top players. To maintain that number one spot and excel in other aspects of life besides chess puts a lot of pressure on me. But I don’t want to reach the mark of becoming the first female African-American chess master for other people; I want to reach it for my grandmother and me.”

Ballantyne aspires to go to college at  University of Pennsylvania or Stanford next year.

The sad part of Ballantyne’s story is that  I.S. 318, is in danger of eliminating the chess program because of budgets cuts. She hopes that they will keep the program.

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