X’Zavier Bartell’s right hand hung over the timeclock for a few seconds Sunday before his left hand moved a rook on the chessboard of green and white squares.
Bartell, who wore red-framed eyeglasses and a purple shirt that said “Game on,” looked absorbed in thought. He didn’t know anyone in the room. It was his first time playing in a chess tournament, said his mother, Laira Reid. The family had just moved from the Bronx to West Hempstead and the 11-year-old only started sixth grade at George Washington School last week.
Yet without one spoken word, X’Zavier shared the same language with dozens of players in the room.
“Chess is a common language,” said Weijie “Jay” Li, 18, a Jericho High School senior and president of CHESSanity, a Jericho-based nonprofit that organized the chess-in-the-park event Sunday.
X’Zavier was among about 40 players gathered at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove for the annual event that aims to promote the board game among youth.
CHESSanity was founded in 2014 by two Jericho brothers, Wesley and Warren Wang. Its chess-in-the-park program has been typically held outdoors at Allenwood Park in Great Neck. Organizers chose the memorial garden at the center this year so that players and their families could also tour the memorial center and learn about the Holocaust. Sunday’s event, however, had to be moved indoors due to pouring rain.
The young players said if people communicate to each other in one language, as in chess, that shared understanding is one way to foster connection and counter hate.
“Hope is always greater than hate,” said Michael Li, an eighth-grader at Jericho Middle School who came up with the idea to bring the event to the memorial center.
Michael, 12, no relation to Weijie Li, said he began learning about the Holocaust through books and films under the influence of his father, Guannan Li, who studied Asian history and taught history at the now-defunct Dowling College.
“It's just impressive … how the resilience of the human spirit and how hope can transcend hatred,” he said.
Sunday's players included elementary schoolchildren up to high school students. They were accompanied by parents who stood along the walls and watched.
"The young people are bringing life to the center,” said Bernie Furshpan, marketing director and a board member at the center. He’s the one who named the event “Checkmate Hate.”
“The whole point of this place is to inspire children to stand up for the right thing and to make society better for the future,” he said. “It's really their future.”