Chess tournament assembles artists, activists and entrepreneurs for community strategizing

By Kieran Purce

//Photographer and artist Yvens Alex Saintil, left, speaks to a visitor about his artwork that explores his experience as a U.S. Army veteran at ILA Art Gallery on Feb. 19. Photo by Kieran Purce | purce.kieran1@gmail.com

Last summer, while battling through clouds of tear gas and dodging police munitions, Brandon Jackson was able to keep his head up long enough to make some friends. One of them, Adam Yoast, a license-pending attorney and fellow activist, was seeking changes to how the justice system handles police accountability. The other was Yvens Alex Saintil, an artist and photographer documenting the George Floyd protests moving Denver. 

On Feb. 19, at ILA Art Gallery in Denver, the trio led the first of two scheduled opening events for End Game Association. After getting the conversation started around Black history and current events on a podcast of the same name, End Game Association opened up the board. The chess tournament brought together creatives, entrepreneurs, and civic-minded people with various experiences in the game of strategy. This is what Jackson had imagined when his decade-long passion for chess developed into the idea for the organization.  

“We develop community strategy,” Jackson said. “You got to make sure your strategy lines up with the way you map it out. If it doesn’t, strategize and move accordingly and then you’ll figure things out.”

That first move is to get different people together with a focus on creativity, civic engagement, and entrepreneurship. Attendees outlined ways to apply strategies from the game of chess to enact social change—how to block out distractions, overcome obstacles, and make a game plan. Part of the game plan is to create new economic opportunities through education and a call for immediate police reform. A lot of moving pieces are involved in developing an endgame. 

A bracket-style tournament took place in the packed art gallery as players battled to checkmate their opponents and secure bragging rights.

“You have chess players that come from all walks of life,” Jackson said. “People that come from urban communities. People that come from suburban communities. So, chess is a universal game and it brings people together. Once you bring those people together, you can figure out a way to then have a conversation.” 

Dialogue in the gallery acknowledged how slave patrols in the early 1700s, which continued until the end of the Civil War, are connected to modern policing. And the reality of the 13th Amendment facilitating the mass incarceration of Black people in the United States.

The history of institutionalized racism is still in progress. Present in all aspects of life like fair access to housing, gaining financial capital and political representation. These are all challenges the End Game Association seeks to overcome through open community dialogue, connecting artists with activists and entrepreneurs with chess players. People from different backgrounds can share their point of view with someone they may not typically interact with on a regular basis.

Between chess games, the floor opened up for conversations between community members like Alexandria Reed, Vincent Owns and Philip Douglas. Reed, a real estate agent with West & Main homes, helps people navigate the housing market. Owens is an entrepreneur and business owner with Park Hill Financial District and helps Black youth gain both financial literacy and capital. Douglas is the founder of Make A Chess Move, which helps Denver’s Park Hill Neighborhood youth apply the focus and skills of a good chess strategy to life’s challenges.

Yoast, a co-collaborator of the End Game Association and co-host of the group’s podcast said they seek to provide opportunities in the community as a whole, but specifically for those of color. 

“When it comes to economic viability and political opportunities and education, how do we expand that so communities can become self-determined versus relying on a system that has clearly kept them oppressed?”

Artistic expression plays a key role in End Game Association’s mission to foster connection and dialogue within the community. This approach was evident Friday night through the multidimensional media work that Saintil has created. Saintil, originally from Queens, New York, is a multidisciplinary artist exploring the conscious versus the unconscious experience. Saintil’s experience as a Black man in America and his ten years of service in the Army influence his work. His mixed media piece titled “Repatriation” dedicates his own Purple Heart award to the Black men and women who died serving in the armed forces. The art show was influenced by some of his first conversations with Jackson and last summer’s protests, Saintil said.

“We kind of just started talking about our vision for humanity, our vision for the Black community, our vision forward,” Saintil said. “We were in the thick of it from May 28 to May 30 down on Colfax getting pepper-sprayed, getting tear-gassed, running from everything. We were in it together so we have that experience that we won’t be able to forget.”

Diego Estrada was the last man standing at the end of the tournament. He walked away with a trophy recognizing his feat. The next planned tournament will be in Atlanta, Georgia, but the date has not been announced.

The End Game Association has officially made its opening move. The organization is still in its middle stages and there is no exact endgame in sight. But the strategy of connecting the community through conversation is off to a good start. 

“If one person gets inspired, that’s good,” Jackson said. “That’s the endgame for me. That’s a win.”

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1 Comment

  1. Linda Kazazian

    What a creative way to problem solve how to increase connections and dialogue.


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