Officer Denise "Cookie" Bouldin takes her job in the community very seriously. She's a community liaison officer for the Seattle Police Department, the Seattle School District and the parks department.
Bouldin, a 28-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department, started Officer Cookie's Urban Youth Chess Club last February. The club meets every Saturday from noon-2 p.m. at the Rainier Beach Library, 9125 Rainier Ave. S.
In 2006, Office Bouldin put together a basketball tournament at the Rainier Community Center with police officers playing against kids and staff members at the center. The following summer, Officer Bouldin was going to put together the basketball game again, until she heard from the youth. The kids said they didn't want to do the basketball game again and she asked them what they wanted to do instead. The kids suggested chess.
"Chess?" Bouldin thought. "I thought they were going to say they wanted to have a dance or a pool party."
At the end of the summer program, she had set up a chess tournament and only about three kids participated, while the others just watched. After asking the kids why they weren't playing, she received all types of answers she didn't like hearing.
"I'm not smart enough."
"It's too hard."
"It's for White kids."
"It's for nerds."
Through a proposal she submitted to the Seattle Police Foundation, she secured $2,500 and found a chess instructor.
"The kids want people to know they're not just about basketball or sports," Bouldin said. "With chess, you don't have to be the fastest, the tallest, the strongest or the biggest as in many other sports," Bouldin said. "In chess, everybody is welcome regardless of your age, gender, your race or economic status."
With youth from China to Africa in the class, Bouldin says the chess club is a melting pot for kids of all colors.
"With the all the different languages that are sometimes spoken, in chess, the spoken language is not a factor in playing," Bouldin said.
"Playing chess has developed these kids self-esteem; I've seen a change in them and have received phone calls and letters from parents and grandparents saying their kid's self-esteem has improved. Some are turning off Cartoon Network saying they want to go to the chess club," Bouldin added. "They're learning how to get along with each other and make problem solving fun."
Before or after each of the chess games, Bouldin has an anti-violence presentation where she talks about not being in a gang or doing drugs, building self-esteem and talks to kids about the consequences of the things they do.
"Chess teaches these kids to think ahead, just as in real life there are consequences to making the wrong choices in life, it develops critical thinking and logical reasoning," Bouldin said. "These are skills that can be applied in their everyday living," Bouldin added. "I truly believe chess breeds success, builds character and strength within these kids."
Bouldin said one of the kids in class summed it up when he said, "The real world is like chess, you gotta take one step at a time, you have to look at everything, all your options before you decide what you're gonna do cause they're consequences for what you do."
"At first those kids were saying they weren't smart enough, didn't think they could learn, now they've quickly picked up the game of chess and view themselves as being smart and wanting to learn more about the game, they believe in themselves and they have learned they can do anything they commit themselves to," Bouldin said.
"I've also noticed team spirit among the youth. They've learned good sportsmanship, never to give up, they've learned to win with pride as well as lose with grace," Bouldin added.
After starting off with just three participants, the program has grown to over 30 youth at times. There is no age limit. Currently they have kids ranging from four to 17 years of age. Some parents and grandparents attend and are learning to play chess for the first time with their kids. Bouldin just hired a new instructor, Ignacio Perez, the 2007 Washington State Chess Champion.
The Seattle Schools also just started a program where they are teaching chess to third graders. Bouldin is currently teaching chess at the African American Academy and an anti-violence class for 5th graders. Bouldin said she has also been asked by other libraries and organizations to come and present the program.
Bouldin, a Chicago native, grew up in the projects and every time she stepped out of her house, there was gang and drug activity. She said it was a blessing she had role models and people in the community doing things similar to what she's doing now.
"They kept me focused," Bouldin said. "That's one of the reasons that I do what I do, I wanna give back, just like somebody gave back to me."
Bouldin talked about seeing the Chicago police harass her five brothers, putting them on the ground, and remembers her 5th grade teacher making her class repeat the mantra "I am somebody." After saying it everyday, she started believing it. The teacher also told her that the ways you change things becomes part of that organization. When she got to high school, she made friends with a Chicago police officer assigned to her school. She started talking to him about becoming a police officer. She wanted to change the harassment within the police ranks.
But Bouldin wanted more. She wanted to be a teacher and a professional model, so while still in high school she started modeling for Ebony, Jet, Essence and Vogue Magazines and others.
The America's Foundation for Chess and the Kiwanis Club of Rainier Valley donated chess boards that the kids can take home to practice and play on, the Rainier Beach McDonald's and the Rainier Beach Safeway donated prizes and food gift cards for the kids. The Rainier Beach Library provides the space.
Bouldin said the kids are learning patience, to evaluate which moves are best and live with the consequences of their decisions.
Anyone interested in participating in the chess club should show up to the library any Saturday.