Q&A: Alfred D. Green on bringing chess to the community

YOUR MOVE: Alfred D. Green, right, plays a game of chess against Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller during a tournament Green organized in September. Also pictured is Chief Deputy Don Eberhardt, center, of the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office. Photo courtesy of the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office

After years in and out of prison, Alfred D. Green knew he had to make a change. “I started studying myself [while incarcerated in 2009],” he says. “I sat down, opened up my eyes to the destruction that I had already did and started paying attention [to myself and my surroundings].”

He and his fellow inmates, he observed, rarely received positive feedback. “I noticed when guys were doing good things, like getting a GED, no one was really praising them or letting them know they did a good job.”

In response, Green launched a magazine to highlight such achievements. “I wrote it on state paper, made copies and sent it by way of other inmates to other wings and pods,” he explains.

Upon his release in 2014, the Asheville native and former Hillcrest Apartments resident continued his quest to be a force for positive change. Connecting with Michael Hayes, founder of the local nonprofit Umoja Health, Wellness and Justice Collective, Green became a certified peer support specialist.

This work ultimately led to the formation of his nonprofit, Young Struggle, which officially launched in 2021. Along with working with area youths, the organization is active in feeding the area’s homeless population and providing emotional support to these community members.

“I look at people as a part of me,” he says. “Whatever their struggle may be is a struggle that I’ve gone through, a struggle I recognize or a struggle that I’ve seen. If I have the education and lived experience of what’s going on, I can help them to navigate the situation without going through what I went through.”

Earlier this fall, Green hosted his first — of what he hopes to be many — chess tournaments at the Hillcrest Apartments community center. The event, he explains, aimed to bring the community together while introducing youths of color to the game. Among the 18 in attendance were Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller, Keynon Lake of My Daddy Taught Me That and Rob Thomas of the Racial Justice Coalition.

“It was a great vibe. It was great conversations and dialogue on ways that we can come together and bring unity in our communities with law enforcement and nonprofits,” Green recalls.

Xpress recently sat down with Green to discuss Young Struggle, what it means to be proactive within the community and how chess is more than just a game.

This interview has been condensed and lightly edited.

Xpress: What inspired you to launch your nonprofit? 

Green: I want to bring unity into the community. We can ask for solutions to help change teens who are shooting at each other and fighting in schools, but if we can’t give them something or someone positive to look at, then it’s like there’s no one there for them.

Through heart, mind and soul, we’re able to put stuff together and make it work. I’m one of those people that is going to help put it together. I want to work with my city to come up with solutions. It may take time, but I’m going to chip away at it because it’s in my path to make this work.

What was it that led you to host a chess tournament? 

I wanted to have a citywide community chess match. The hope was to get all the kids and adults from Asheville to come together to show these kids something different than the aggression, the anger and the violence that’s going on in our city.

When it comes to African American culture, kids only look up to sports figures or rappers. I wanted to give them something different to look at. Chess is a noncontact, thinking situation. And you know, chess is a part of life. It is the perfect game for life. It teaches you how to strategically move through obstacles and barriers. It gives you the ability to sit down and put together a calculated move that’s positive.

What most surprised you about the chess tournament?

I had a dialogue with an officer from the sheriff’s department. He wanted to know how I related chess with life. I told him you just look at it as you would life. He asked me to walk him through it — to show him the most important piece on the chessboard.

I was like, it varies between different people. It depends on how you move in life and what you value the most. If you value your kids the most, then a lot of people see the pawns as their kids. If you value your mother the most, then a lot of people value the queen. It’s really all how you look at life and what you value.

He wanted me to give him other scenarios like parenting and the police structure and how chess could apply to these situations. That conversation shocked me. And I shocked him with moving pieces and having a conversation that he was able to relate to.

What’s the most important aspect of your work? 

That it’s not about me. I’m just a reflection of who these people are. I’m a reflection of their greatness because we’re all equally moving. Some of us just have the platform, and some of us don’t. For those who don’t have a platform, I’m standing on a platform that is yours. We’re standing on it equally.


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