PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In recognition of Black History Month, we are honoring Gamechangers who are making a positive impact on communities of color in the region. Among them is a West Philadelphia coach who is teaching kids how to win at life through chess.
Mikyeil El-Mekki describes himself as a super-nerd as he rolled through the nearly half-dozen languages he speaks.
But El-Mekki funnels that mental agility into teaching kids how to use 64 squares.
“Life is the only thing that has more possibilities than a chess game,” he said.
El-Mekki is the founder of the Paul Robeson Chess Club, which trains kids as young as 3 years old to use their minds to overpower others on the board through strategy, logic and creativity.
“We reject the lie of too young. We reject that lie. I was playing chess at 3,” El-Mekki said.
El-Mekki fell in love with the game before kindergarten and was frequently found in face-offs with his big brother.
As a kid, he spent a lot of time studying black history.
“It nurtured me from a youth,” El-Mekki said.
When he founded the chess club 15 years ago, he named it after one of his heroes Paul Robeson.
“No matter what choices he faced, he never would compromise his values,” El-Mekki said.
The actor, singer and activist grew to international fame, but he was blackballed during the McCarthy era.
Robeson spent his final years living in Philadelphia on Walnut Street.
El-Mekki partnered with the Paul Robeson House and Museum so his kids could be part of the legacy.
“What you can do with his brain is limitless,” El-Mekki said.
His methods help strengthen the minds, one move at a time.
“They thrive and grow in self-confidence from seeing how smart they are,” El-Mekki said.
And the group is highly successful. Nicknamed “Team Genius,” they’ve won 14 top national honors, five in the past two years and they’ll play anyone, anywhere at any time.
“They put fire to the board. Serious chess, this is our culture,” El-Mekki said.
The plan is to keep winning. El-Mekki’s vision is to take Team Genius international.
When asked to complete the sentence: I believe I am changing the game by, El-Mekki said, “Empowering deeply and profoundly the next generation of great problem solvers.”