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New Dreams: Inspiring Kids to Be More

January 18, 2018

Another Way for week of January 12, 2018

New Dreams: Inspiring Kids to Be More

I never learned to play chess. Of course I never seriously tried; it always looked hopelessly complex. Although I graduated from college with a decent record and have had a somewhat successful career as a writer, producer and editor, chess was never something that really drew me in.

But we recently watched a “60 Minutes” segment on a man who loves the challenge of teaching chess to children to increase their opportunities in life and their intellectual capabilities. It was totally inspiring. Plus, he, according to others, is like a kid himself and just loves making chess into an engaging story.

In 2016 in their first year playing any kind of chess, children in the fourth and fifth grades in very rural Franklin County, Mississippi, (population 8000 for the whole county and only one stoplight), beat high schoolers competing in a state chess championship at Mississippi State University.

The best part was hearing that these kids were not only excelling in a board game, but bringing their grades up to high B’s and A’s. Dr. Jeff Bulington has worked for years teaching children to play chess—and not just the game, but using elements of chess to teach other academic subjects. They turn the chess board into a map of sorts, or a history lesson, and even science and math principles.

Dr. B., as he is known, moved to Franklin from Memphis. Franklin County fights the stereotypes of “dumb, poor and fat,” said one local man. It’s the kind of place people commonly call “nowhere,” but as Dr. B. put it in the program, “If there are people there, it’s not ‘nowhere.’ It’s just a somewhere that doesn’t get a lot of attention.”

In terms of chess, Dr. B. makes the various moves memorable by using stories like Little Red Riding Hood to illustrate what the pieces are doing. He and an assistant, Bobby Poole (also a pastor) have taught several hundred kids in that area to not only play chess locally, but to take on challenges from across the state and succeed.

Dr. Burlington grew up in rural Indiana as I did. I hasten to add my growing up days were in no way underprivileged: attending a private Christian high school for three years, taking piano lessons, playing sports, and participating in church girls’ club and youth activities. Later we moved to North Florida—away from the beaches, to an area like rural Alabama or Mississippi. If you didn’t have parents who could afford to pick you up from basketball or band practice, and who expected you to complete homework every night—you were pretty much stuck in a future flipping burgers or sawing pulpwood.

Lots of games in our game closet, but no chess.

I’ve lived in two other communities some would call “nowhere,” where the children had few of the opportunities of the average North American kid. The “poorest” of those places was definitely the Appalachian area of eastern Kentucky. The children there may have been underprivileged, but they also opened up beautifully as we taught them skills like sewing, woodworking and cooking through afterschool 4-H programs.

The 60 Minutes segment also reminded me of how my own children felt initially going to our public high school that was kind of considered the “poor hillbilly” area of our county with the sports nickname of “Gobblers.” But caring teachers offered incredible learning experiences in music and drama, and put on amazing Broadway musicals that dropped our jaws the first few years we saw them. The football team also finally made it to the state finals one year. All these things helped bolster pride in their school and themselves. They learned what people can do if they practice hard and work together, with the support and focus of great teachers.

Never forget that as kids, parents, teachers, and leaders. Even for those of us who are well past school age, don’t overlook that you can dream new dreams, set new goals. You never know what you’ll learn to do or accomplish. It’s almost enough to make me want to try chess!

Oldest gradnson, Sam, learning to play Guess Who? with his parents at Christmas.


What are your new dreams for yourself or your family?


How did where you grew up influence your feelings about yourself and your opportunities?

You can easily find the whole story online googling for “Chess in Franklin County.” Comments or your own stories? Email me at or at Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22850.

Another Way is a column © by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. Columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.




  1. Beverly Silver permalink

    Hi Melodie – I don’t know about chess either, but – two comments. One of our friends at church, Alex, I believe still comes to Trinity to play chess with others. He has done that for years and Trinity has bee the site. Also there is a movie out now – not in the big theaters, but available – Name of the movie is “the Queen of Katwe” and it is about chess. A girl in some African country gets in to a chess group and becomes so good – the whole group become champions – and she, and they eventually get to the All-Africa tournament in chess. It is a delightful and inspiring movie. I think you would enjoy it! It has been shown here t Sunnyside. Bye, Beverly

    • Nice to have your early comment here, Beverly! Yes, I forgot to mention the chess group at Trinity–certainly long running. And yes, that sounds like a great and inspiring movie to see. I’m glad you mentioned it here for others to maybe watch on Netflix or somewhere.

      Blessings and have a great day on the “sunny” side of Harrisonburg. 🙂

  2. Lucinda J permalink

    Hi Melodie, I really love your focus on the potential of the underprivileged in this post. I am NOT that, but growing up in rural Rusk County, part of a “hick” community, sometimes I have felt intimidated by what appears to me the more “elite” America. Interacting with people from many different backgrounds has taught me that all people, rich or poor, are still people and I can approach them on that level. I believe that any child, no matter their background, can achieve great things when they have people in their lives who care enough to invest time, love, and energy. I loved the examples you gave. The chess story is awe-inspiring!

  3. “Sometimes intimidated” — I understand that! I’m glad you enjoyed this chess story and agree very much with you about taking the time to invest in our children–plus having memorable teaching methods, all help! Have a great day, Luci.

  4. I remember that 60 Minutes segment, which I must have viewed months ago when it first aired.

    Dreams do come true, the theme that unfolded before my eyes, reminded me again that pegging children as “dumb, poor or fat” is unfair and unjust. Dr. B. is nothing short of genius!

    Thank you for filling in the details of this story, much of which I missed because I was so dumb-founded at the transformation.

    • Yes, I’m sure it was a rerun but so glad to have caught it. It was an exciting story for me on many levels. Thanks for echoing the wonder of it. 🙂

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