At the age of 16, Bronx teen Justus Williams became the second African-American chess Grandmaster and the youngest African American to achieve Master Status. Now 18 years old, he pursues the title of World Champion and shares his story in hopes of inspiring others.
Justus begins every morning with an hour-long commute along Brooklyn’s crowded J and 6 trains. As he enters the halls of his Brooklyn intermediate school, he joins a student body that is challenging the preconceptions of the New York City public school system.
Justus and his fellow students are overcoming adversity with chess. The school’s chess coach for the past 14 years has helped channel what began as a small after-school program into the core of the school’s very identity. She believes the game instills critical thought processes that will benefit the students as they make important life choices. Together, the students are building character, achieving the extraordinary, and winning more national chess championships than any other school in the country.
When Justus first began learning chess in the third grade, he says he was quickly counted out. So Justus spent his weekends practicing against chess hustlers in Washington Square Park and entered an advanced chess program. At 12 years old, he became the youngest African American Master in the world.
“[He] came up to the Bronx just to play me.” Justus reflects on the day he faced the No. 1 ranked chess player in the world—an opportunity that would allow him to put his chess skills to the ultimate test. “I won the first game.” Immediately following the much-anticipated match, Justus’s opponent went on to play the world championship.
Now a senior in high school and the youngest African-American Chess National Master, Justus continues to compete in competitions throughout the tri-state area. Justus enjoys the connections he’s made through chess as well as the satisfaction he receives in beating players well beyond his age. In five years, he envisions himself graduating college while pursuing the title of World Champion and hopes to encourage other students to invest their ambitions in chess.