Rich As A King

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Chess strategy as a way to teach troubled kids


Q&A: In 'Life the Griot,' one person and a chess board makes a difference
By Andre Gallant
updated Wednesday, January 8, 2014 - 7:16pm

Activist, social worker and poet Lemuel LaRoche, known to most as Life the Griot, is the subject of a new documentary called, simply, “Life the Griot.” Directed by Matt DeGennaro and produced by Kathy Prescott and Grady Thrasher, the film follows Life on his round-the-clock journey to make a difference in the lives of Athens’ young black men and boys.

Life uses chess strategy as a way to teach troubled kids more meaningful ways to achieve their goals and stay out of trouble. His chess efforts also include the now second annual Chess and Community Conference where young chess champions from around the region compete. But it’s also a platform for social change. The over-arching question surround his work involves African-Americans, incarceration and how to disjoin the two. “Life the Griot” makes its debut Sunday at Ciné.

WHEN WERE YOU FIRST APPROACHED ABOUT DOING THIS DOCUMENTARY?

It’s been in the works for a good two years. It began with Word of Mouth (a monthly poetry event at the Globe). It’s an event with a lot of diversity: young, black, old, white, orange. Just going there and reading poetry I tried to bring some community aspect to it. When you think of poetry you think of rainbows, so I addressed or read poems motivated by works in the community, and I gained the attention of people there. Grady and Kathy were really moved by some of the things that I was doing, and they helped me sponsor the first Chess and Community conference. But from there they were, like, let us follow you, let us show people what you are doing. ... Prisons on the rise, crime, the economy. So when they see young people that are putting themselves out their to make some type of difference, that motivated them.

HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN THE CAMERA FIRST TRAINED ON YOU?

Well, the original idea was to put together a documentary that focused on addressing an issue (the booming prison problem and the rate that young African-American men are filling them) in a new moral way. But as we looked at it and researched, they said the work I was doing was sort of a solution to it, so it shifted more onto me. Whenever you put yourself out there, you are open to criticism. So personally I was against it. But when they said let’s focus on me, I’d rather just be under the radar. But people say to me that I need to stop standing in my own way, that my story has the ability to move people. So I thought maybe I can show the kids that I work with that if you do what is right, what needs to be done ... often it seems that people doing good things don’t get recognition, but I can show them otherwise. Instead of looking at just the problems, look at the solutions. Sometimes you don’t need a million dollars to influence things. You just need that spirit, that drive that says I want to get something done.

Full article here.