Birmingham chess instructor wants to spread HOPE through chess

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — David Harris wants nothing more than to spread HOPE with the game of chess. To Harris, HOPE stands for “Help Our People Excel.”

Every Thursday night at the Cahaba Brewing Company, Harris hosts an event called Chess Night. These free events are meant to engage the local community with the game and its benefits, while also providing a fun and social evening. The events are free, but donations are accepted to go towards free chess lessons for kids throughout the Birmingham community.

David Harris hosts Chess Night at the Cahaba Brewing Company every Thursday. (Courtesy of David Harris)

Before he was teaching chess to the next generation and sharing it with others, Harris’s fascination and love for the game started many years ago on a faraway island.

It started in Hawaii, where Harris was a private in the Army. One day, it took his weekend pass and went down to the beach. There, he spotted fellow soldiers playing an unfamiliar game. It was chess.

“I was so excited about it… so my reaction, it was like a kid with a new toy,” Harris said. “They had to show me how to play that game. And they only showed me how the pieces moved. I had to show myself the rest.”

When he came back to Birmingham, he brought the game to his neighborhood.

“Years ago, they were playing cards, checkers, dominoes. I got all the guys playing chess when I came back.”

Over the years, Harris’s love for the game continued to grow. As a teacher at Woodlawn High School, Harris gained the opportunity to lead a chess team.

“The principal asked if we wanted to start a chess team,” Harris said. “I heard that and my ears perked up.”

David Harris teaches chess to Birmingham’s youth. (Courtesy of David Harris)

The first day, Harris had nine kids come in to learn chess. Shortly after that and in the coming days, he said it jumped to 45. He even led the team to the first chess tournament in Woodlawn history, where they didn’t win, but grew from the experience.

Harris believes that chess can have a significant impact on the mentality of those who play it. He believes that it can teach you to think. That is one reason why he is so inspired to pass the game over to new generations.

“I found out that in the city school system, the city school kids don’t think,” he said. “Or don’t know how to think. Chess will teach you that. I want to teach (chess) to all our kids, boys and girls, and I don’t care what you do with it, just that you know how to play it.”

He also believes that the game can provide lessons of patience, how to make wise decisions, and how to overcome mistakes.

David Harris teaches chess at East Lake Library. (Courtesy of Birmingham Public Library)

If the kids want to take the game further, that’s their decision, Harris said. He wants them to understand that the game can benefit them, that they can go to collage free with it, make a living with it, or even become a grandmaster.

While holding free lessons at East Lake Library, Harris’s efforts were well received. William Darby, the branch manager, was impressed with how the game was improving the youthful participants’ thinking skills, concentration, and sportsmanship. When the kids first started playing, Harris saw that they were intimidated by the game, but after teaching them the steps towards making the right move, their confidence improved.

For all his time and effort to teach the game, Harris only wants one reward.

“It ain’t about money, what my pay is, is when I’m done teaching and I see you playing,” Harris said. “That’s a great gift to me.”

For those wanting to learn the game or come out for a night of beer and chess, Harris extends his invitation to Chess Night at the Cahaba Brewing Company every Thursday night from 5 pm to 8 pm All skill levels are welcome and participants can expect a casual and friendly environment.

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