A Lesson in Tenacity: Rochelle Ballantyne

Rochelle Ballantyne is Living While Blacq. She learned how to play chess as a child from her grandmother. She left many in her wake as she competed from elementary through high school. The young Brooklynite is now a full-scholarship student at Stanford and aspires to be the first African American U.S. Chess Master.

A lot is covered in her 2014 #Girls Can Be interview with Soledad O’Brien who has partnered with Girls Can — Cover Girl’s empowerment program for girls with dreams and the determination to fulfill them. They discuss her stable family structure including a strong bond with her grandmother — with Rochelle helping with finances and helping care for siblings all while keeping her grades up and chasing her dream.

Rochelle Ballantyne simul April 2013
Rochelle squares off in a 20-person simultaneous match in April, 2013.

It was disheartening to hear about the lack of resources that would enable her to compete in tournaments. Winning local, regional,and national matches is her road to U.S. Chess Master.

But Rochelle has a strong constitution — a backbone. We have mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and family friends who display this quality shared by women of color. I’ll bet you’re thinking about a specific one right now.

The Chess Drum Blog Post

CNN Radio interview with Steve Kastenbaum

Since the articles I found on Rochelle’s quest are dated 2012 and 2014, I was certain she had reached her goal by now. And, despite my not having connections in the world of chess, I wondered how I’d missed hearing or reading about it. I looked for an article congratulating her on making U.S. Chess Master. It, apparently, has still not happened — although I’m sure she’s pretty close. A fairly recent article (April 2015)

At Stanford, Ballantyne met and eventually began a friendship with another African American prodigy — golf hopeful, Mariah Stackhouse. The two respect and have learned about each other’s talents. Another inpsiring read — the May, 2015 article on the university’s website — offers a look into the formation of this friendship. Two Powers Meet at Stanford (May 21, 2015) tells how two proteges formed a lasting friendship and opened their minds to learn about one another’s specialty.

How to Become a Chess Master

Rochelle’s Current US Chess Federation Profile (as of February 1, 2016) indicates her international rating with the World Chess Federation (FIDE) is “Candidate Master.” The organization’s rating system is more stringent than that of the US — which may mean she has attained the goal of U.S. Chess Master. If anyone can sort this out for my readers and me I’d be most appreciative.


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