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At Age 16, Joshua Colas Is On His Way to Chess Grandmaster

joshuaWhile some Black children dream of one day reaching the NFL or the NBA, 16-year-old Joshua Colas desires to be a chess grandmaster.

The young chess star has been playing since he was seven years old. Joshua became the youngest Black chess master in history at the age of 12 and last weekend he earned his second consecutive national chess championship.

Success in chess isn’t new to Black people. The Chess Drum, a website which keeps records of the achievements of Black chess players run by Daaim Shabazz, an associate professor of business at Florida A&M University, lists 85 Black chess masters. Even though many of them no longer compete, it shows that many Black people have excelled in chess.

Colas wants to show other children in poor neighborhoods that chess isn’t just for the rich. “He wants to show, if you work hard enough, you can reach the top level,” his father Guy Colas told the Huffington Post.

Joshua’s gift as a chess player is evident. At 16, he challenged his father, the man who taught him the rules of the game, to play him while he was blindfolded—and he won.

Now that he’s in high school, Colas and his family are raising money for tournament fees and travel on his journey to become a grandmaster chess player. His family’s Indiegogo campaign has raised more than $7,000, but they still need a lot more. The goal is to reach $23,800.

The path to becoming a grandmaster will require Colas to participate in tournaments in Europe.

“You have to pay a month’s hotel fees, and travel, and the entrance fee,” Guy told the Post. “It’s just to a point now—that’s why I’m asking for people to help me, because he’s just too talented to let it go to waste. He really wants it, and he has the ability.”

Both of Colas’ parents are from Haiti, and the family lives just north of New York City.

Colas has already been offered full scholarships to two universities, but he’s still waiting for his top choice, MIT.

Colas is one of an exclusive group of Black chess stars to come out of New York City. Maurice Ashley was 34 when he gained his grandmaster status. Two other Black New York City boys, Justus Williams and James Black Jr., were chess masters by the time they were 12.

“To have three young players do what they have done is something of an amazing curiosity,” Ashley told the New York Times.

Of the 57,000 players registered with the U.S. Chess Federation, Colas is 239th in the rankings.

Colas’ parents say that they are very proud of him regardless of whether he wins or loses.

“I understand the game,” Guy says. “I know how difficult it is. So when he loses, I try to make him realize that that’s part of it… Chess is a life-long lesson.”

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