DELRAY BEACH, Fla. — The Spady Cultural Heritage Museum in Delray Beach is home to countless pieces of African American history.
Every Thursday for the past two years it’s been home to James McCray’s chess club.
“This is my first opportunity to give back to the neighborhood and when you do something, you want to do it the best you can, right?” said McCray.
To know McCray is to know chess.
“I took chess and dealt with my life with it,” he said. “I took it and made it my life.”
Raised in Delray Beach, he learned the game at the age of 23 and today, at 71, he still fondly remembers his first game.
“I can’t even explain it, it’s like having an awakening - you ever heard about? That’s what the game was,” said McCray.
In a world where a 10-year-old Nigerian immigrant like Tani Adewumi can overcome homelessness in the Big Apple and go on to become a chess master, McCray knows anything is possible with the right choices.
“What it did for me was give me an opportunity to understand I had choices in life and all the choices I make don’t always have to be negative,” said McCray.
His first chess teacher became his first role model and McCray wanted to do the same for others like Patrick Paulo and his 7-year-old son Joshua.
Paulo recalled, “I think one time when he played him the first time, he actually like, cried because he lost, but then James was able to tell him you got to lose sometimes to win.”
For McCray the victory comes in being able to share the game in ways that bring families and communities together.
“Well that feels great when you do something for someone and you’re not looking for a payback,” said McCray. “You’re doing it from your heart, that’s a great feeling.”
Win or lose it’s a feeling that’s evident in each move as McCray and his club navigate the 64 squares and countless lessons.
“You got to learn, you know?” said Paulo. “You can’t be afraid to lose so I teach him and I know I’m putting myself back into it, it’s good for him, you know, so I do it for little man.”
In those moments McCray sees his passion being passed on, it’s all he could ask for.
“That’s my legacy... I learned from Mr. James McCray,” he said.
One man is helping to raise the next generation of Kings and Queens.
This Saturday June 19, McCray is hosting a Father’s Day chess tournament at the Spady Museum open to the public from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.