Brooklyn Teen: 1st Black Female Chess Master?

Steve Kastenbaum/CNN
Steve Kastenbaum/CNN

Seventeen-year-old Rochelle Ballantyne is one of the stars of a new documentary, Brooklyn Castle, that chronicles the achievements of the chess team at Brooklyn, N.Y.'s I.S. 318 middle school, which has attracted attention for having the highest-ranked junior high team in the country despite the fact that 65 percent of its students live below the federal poverty level.


Part of this impressive group, high school senior Rochelle is becoming a star in her own right. She is slated to participate in the schedule in the 2012 World Youth Chess Championships to be held in Maribor, Slovenia, from Nov. 7-19 and hopes to become the first black female chess master — an aspiration that was inspired by her late grandmother. From Atlanta Black Star:

Now a high school senior, Ballantyne was profiled in Teen Vogue where she talked about the pressures and motivations behind her remarkable rise to the top of the American chess world. She attributed much of her success to her grandmother.

"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," Ballantyne told Teen Vogue. "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."

While Ballantyne said she likes the idea of being the only girl vanquishing a room full of boys, she's glad to see girls joining her in the sport.

Sadly, the 1.S. 318 chess program profiled in Brooklyn Castle that gave Ballantyne got her start is now threatened by budget cuts. "That's really horrible," she says. "It's so sad that you can take out money from schools because education is what allows you to succeed in life."

Read more at Atlanta Black Star.