Warren, Ohio, Black-Owned Business Helps Youth Development

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Warren’s Miles Johnson (bottom left) uses chess as a metaphor to teach children the game of life through his company, Chess Is Life.

(Photo provided)

Every decision on a chess board has long term consequences. Victory goes to the player with the most strategic and critical thinking skills.

These are some of the themes that Chess Is Life co-founder Miles Johnson and his partner Jeff Butts use to teach their young proteges how to empower themselves in the game of life.

“We try to focus on delivering aspects of life through the game of chess. We teach chess in the school system and we have taught in different places. We are currently teaching in the city schools of Youngstown and Warren and hopefully we will go to Cleveland,” Johnson said.

In keeping with the company’s mission to encourage young participants to apply their skills to life decisions for personal growth, Chess is Life has continued to grow and expand into regional tournaments.

Working with his team, Johnson says his advice for younger generations is not only influenced by his love of the game, but also by the insight he gained while navigating the life of a struggling teenager.

“As a minor, I was actually in a detention center, [Mahoning County Juvenile Justice Center]”, Johnson said.

A calculating chef

Courage, discipline and self-awareness allowed the resident of Warren to persevere in his personal struggles. Little did he know that these experiences would be the catalyst that would ground his goal of becoming the change he wanted to see in his community.

Determined to leave a lasting legacy, he decided to align himself with local organizations and nonprofits to increase his reach.

“I think everything I do now leaves a legacy. I hope the work I’m involved in really motivates and inspires people,” Johnson said.

In addition to teaching chess, he is an organizer for the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, working with residents developing local initiatives to improve their quality of life. From creating civic engagement opportunities for youth to helping clean up neighborhoods, Johnson has earned a reputation as a community leader in Warren.

His reach in Trumbull County has led him to partner with many other local organizations, including the Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority, the Economic Justice Team and others.

Competing with apathy

If chess is a microcosm of life, then Johnson has mastered the art of changing and adapting to overcome opposition – a skill he has employed to combat what he calls “apathy” in the area he hopes to change.

“I would say overcoming the community apathy in the valley is a challenge,” he said. “We are a very resilient community. We need to stay focused on the positive and continue to build community.

The Solution: “Develop new community engagement tactics and strategies to create a paradigm shift from apathy to resilience,” Johnson said.

make a move

Deepening its community work and expanding its reach to more young people in the region is paramount to Johnson and his team.

Recently, it has stepped up its awareness and education efforts around HIV and AIDS in the region. He supported a World AIDS Day event, partnering with a trauma-informed care group, Warren City Health District, Family & Children First Council of Trumbull County, and other community organizations.

The event raised awareness of the growing number of young people who have recently been diagnosed with HIV and provided information and education about HIV and AIDS to the entire Warren community.

“I want to educate people and create workshops and different engagements where we can integrate; where it’s more relational and not transactional,” Johnson said.

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