Saturday, August 6, 2011

The long road to a new move


The long road to a new move

By Lisa Suhay

The story of the Chess Cinderella of Palo Alto, Calif., started here in Norfolk in June during a phone call with an international chess grandmaster in Lubbock, Texas. Susan Polgar and I were talking about the free chess program I run at the Lamberts Point Community Center and how hard it is for many to get a shot at a scholarship.

I was complaining that I never see much diversity in scholarship tournaments, and she decided to put a fully charged magic wand in my hands. She offered to give whatever player I recommended a wild card invitation to the Susan Polgar Girls’ Chess Invitational at Texas Tech. Three girls in the tournament would win $40,000 scholarships to Texas Tech, in addition to two days of instruction from Polgar herself.

Because my players are beginners, I knew the wild card girl should be Dyhemia Young, 15, of Palo Alto. Adisa Banjoko, founder of Hip-Hop Chess Federation, had often told me about her many trials. I was struck by how much of a fighter she was and how, no matter what befell her, chess always pulled her through. It was her life raft in a sea of chaos.

She deserved a chance at a scholarship, so I submitted her name, never realizing what an epic saga was being set in motion.

Dyhemia would prove nearly impossible to locate. She was in foster care. Somewhere. Banjoko put the word out to her friends and teachers. For nearly a month we looked for her, with zero results.

In desperation I began to Google her and found a missing child flyer that led me to San Francisco Police Missing Persons Detective Joseph Carroll. After spilling the story, I prepared for the brush-off. Instead, he said, “I am going to find this girl. She deserves her shot. Let’s make something happen.”

He called 30 minutes later. She was in juvenile hall, being held for running away. Carroll hooked me up with the Department of Social Services, and after hearing the story of our Chess Cinderella, they agreed to help. Dyhemia was moved to a group home in Palo Alto.

Then the city attorney got involved, banning Dyhemia from traveling without a Social Services chaperone. We needed a court order, plus an additional order allowing her to speak to the media so we could raise money for both plane tickets and double room and board.

The orders were obtained. Dyhemia, who had just 72 hours until the start of the tournament, talked to the press, and a story ran on the front page of The Los Angeles Times.

More here.