Archie, he had a lot of wisdom. I met him at a time when I needed guidance, and I recognized him as a person who was passionate about knowledge of self. Most days he could be found reading or playing chess.
I used to hit him up to play, but he'd tell me, "You probably know how to play chess, but you don't play chess," and he was right.
Archie said there are people who know how to play the game, people who play the game, and then there are chess players. The first group just knows how to move the pieces on the board. The next group plays chess, but doesn't understand the strategy. And for chess players like Arch…the game is just inside of them.
I used to think, attack attack attack. Archie would let me win some of his pieces, but then the next thing I knew I'd be in checkmate.
So he started schooling me. Lesson one: look at chess as a metaphor for life. That was a paradigm shift for me. Up until then I believed in the so-called code of the streets. Basically I was willing to throw my life away for a friend.
Archie told me to think of all the people around me as chess pieces, and I am the king, the one piece that needs to be left standing at the end of the day. "Every piece is dispensable," he said, "and there's only one to a coffin."
There were other lessons. I started thinking three to four moves ahead, remembering that every move should have a valuable purpose and that one wrong move could cost me.
I stopped looking for a quick buck and acting on impulse. Instead I focused on my opening game — building an infrastructure for later success. I enrolled in classes and aligned myself with people and organizations that would help me prosper.
There are too many young black men behind bars or six feet under — and I refuse to be one of them. Now I have strategies to win on and off the chessboard, and thanks to Archie, I'm no longer worried about being checkmated in the game of life.
With a Perspective, I'm Chris Alsobrook.
Chris Alsobrook is 19 years old and lives in Oakland. His commentary was produced by Youth Radio.