Second of two stories
Seattle police detective Denise "Cookie" Bouldin knows what it is like to be young and living in a rough area.
"Seattle is nothing compared to the Chicago projects," she said during a recent interview, referring to the place where she grew up. Gangs, drugs and prostitution were all around her then. "I hated the police because my community and the people around me hated the police,” she said. But after talking to an officer at her high school, she began to realize that she wanted to be a cop.
Detective Cookie, as she is called almost universally by people who know her in the Rainier Valley, is a 33-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department. She has worked in the south precinct for about 25 years and also lives in the area. Her nickname is the result of her childhood love for cookies. In 2006 she started a chess club in Rainier Beach, even though she did not know how to play the game. Chess enables her to have conversations with kids in the Rainier Valley, much like the one she had with the police officer in her high school when she was growing up.
“I use the chess board to teach anti-violence,” she said. “Most of the kids who participate in my chess club have seen violence, have seen death."
The year before she started the club, she had organized a basketball tournament in the neighborhood. After the tournament, some kids she spoke with said they had interests besides basketball, and that they wanted to play chess.
"I’m thinking: I hate chess,” Bouldin said. But she agreed to organize an event anyway.
About 20 kids showed up to that first chess event, and only three knew how to play the game. "I saw something wrong with the picture," she said. "Here we had kids that wanted to do something out of the norm, and there’s no avenue for them."
Detective Denise "Cookie" Bouldin and students from Van Asselt and South Shore schools at her annual Urban Youth School Chess Tournament. Photo: SPD
The club currently meets on Tuesdays at the Rainier Beach Library and on Saturdays at the Rainier Beach Community Center. Six kids and young adults turned out for a chess club session at the community center on a recent Saturday afternoon. The room was generally quiet, except for when Detective Cookie, or a chess instructor who works with the club, chimed in to comment on the wisdom of particular moves. There were also a few friendly barbs exchanged between a couple of the players. The overhead fluorescent lights were off and bright sunlight glowed outside the windows, some of which looked out onto Rainier Avenue South, near South Henderson Street. The space resembled a high school classroom. The chessboards were laid out on folding tables with blue plastic tops.
Nile Hunter, a sixth grader, was wearing a basketball jersey with a Batman logo on it. Hunter learned to play chess at the club. He plays piano as well. "It helps me learn and sometimes just release stress from other things I do," he said, referring to chess. Making moves where he can take other people's pieces is his favorite part of the game. "It's fun to play," he said
Evelyn Gresham arrived as the two-hour chess session neared its end. She was there to pick up her daughter, Angel. A lifelong resident of the Rainier Valley, Gresham said that she sees chess as a self-esteem booster for her daughter. "It's a good, healthy challenge."
Angel is 10 years old now and began learning to play chess at the club when she was 5. She was looking forward to a tournament that was coming up on June 10 at the Van Asselt Community Center. "It was a quiet place," Angel said when asked what she likes about participating in the club. Bouldin says that Angel shows quite a bit of promise as a chess player. As the detective plays against her, and as she watches Angel play against other opponents, she encourages her to stop and think before making moves and to look beyond the easiest play.
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