Rochelle Ballantyne has her mind on one thing – victory. The 17-year-old Brooklyn high school senior is on the verge of becoming the first African-American female chess master. In a sport that many associate with old men, park benches, and cups of coffee, this passionate young woman is preparing to rewrite everything.
Rochelle was taught chess as a child by her grandmother who was looking for a mentally stimulating activity to pair for her super-active granddaughter. It was Rochelle’s grandmother who encouraged her to take the game seriously and set her sights high on becoming the first African-American female chess master.
“I didn’t think too much about [becoming chess master] because it seemed like an impossible feat and I didn’t think it could happen. I didn’t have the mentality at first.”
When Rochelle’s grandmother passed away, it changed everything. Rochelle harnessed the confidence and passion her grandmother had for her and focused her energies into chess. “I have to reach that goal for her,” she told Teen Vogue.
“The title of Grandmaster of Chess is earned after years of playing the sport on both the national and international scene. Once earned, the Grandmaster can hold the title for the rest of his or her life.” It is reserved for the most elite of competitors – many go their entire life playing the sport without ever coming close to earning the title. It is a lifetime award that Rochelle competes for to honor her late grandmother.