On any given weekend, attending a chess tournament, a hip-hop fest or a martial arts competition in the Bay Area wouldn't be that unusual.

Going to an event fusing all three is a different story.

And that's what's being touted Saturday at the Alum Rock Youth Center in San Jose: The fifth anniversary of the Hip Hop Chess Federation, the brainchild of a school security guard who teaches at-risk youth that these trio of activities use similar skills of combat, patience and logic.

"People laugh when they hear hip-hop and chess in the same sentence," said Adisa "The Bishop" Banjoko, 42, of Fremont, the federation's founder. "That's because they think that people who do hip-hop are ignorant. But when they see us playing chess, it messes with their brains and with their ideas of who we can be."

The event at the city of San Jose's youth center will boast an all-day chess tournament, where DJ Unexpected from San Jose and Jahi from Oakland will spin tunes, and free jujitsu workshops will be led by Alan "Gumby" Marques of Heroes Martial Arts in San Jose. The Bay Area Chess Club will officiate chess matches and a "life strategies panel" will be co-led by Asheru of Washington, D.C., best known for rapping on "The Boondocks" theme song.

The anniversary celebrates five years of hard work by Banjoko, who kicked off his first event in 2007 at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in San Jose. Since then, Banjoko has taken his teachings all over,

from a hip-hop convention at Harvard University to San Francisco Juvenile Hall. His unusual approach to helping kids has garnered the attention of the New York Times and Good Morning America.

Banjoko keeps spreading his message anywhere he can. Last week, he showed up at Gunderson High School, where a social science teacher is a rap buddy of his. Over pizza, Banjoko aired YouTube videos of rappers GZA and T.I., who play chess or rap about chess in their videos.

"Pull those themes and principles of the chess board, and live them out in real life," Banjoko told the students. His basic mantra is to do any of these three activities well, you must calm your body and mind.

"That was really cool," said Devin Macias, 16, afterward. "I wasn't expecting that." The presentation also brought together students who might actually never have lunch together otherwise: Shawn Mavunga, who is black and president of Gunderson's hip-hop club, and Evan Mancuso, 15, who is white and a chess aficionado.

Banjoko has received support from stars from each of the activities, such as: Los Angeles MC Rakaa Iriscience of Dilated Peoples, Brazilian-born jujitsu artist Ralek Gracie of Southern California, and international chess master/martial arts competitor Joshua Waitzkin, the inspiration for the movie, "Searching for Bobby Fischer."

One of Banjoko's hardest working volunteers is his wife, Meko Gaborski, who runs a cheerleading program, Raw Talents in Fremont, and who has watched her husband put as many hours into volunteering as he does his day job, being a security guard at John O'Connell High School in San Francisco.

Banjoko acknowledges he is woefully "underemployed." He has been living paycheck to paycheck to support his wife and three children. (He is an author and used to work in public relations for some Silicon Valley startups until the economy went sour.)

Banjoko said he can relate to the troubles facing the students he teaches,

Born Jason Parker to a middle class family in San Francisco, he grew up loving to read. His father taught him how to play chess and to appreciate music. Taking pride in his African roots, he took the name Adisa Banjoko in the 1980s, and freelanced articles about hip-hop to magazines such as Vibe, XXL and Bomb.

But Banjoko admitted he was a "loose cannon" and didn't take advantage of the opportunities open to him. He dropped out of high school in Pacifica, although he later earned a GED.

His work with street kids is an outgrowth of those lost opportunities.

"I think I do this because I'm trying to be the person I wish I would have known in high school so I would have graduated and gone to college on time," he said.

Banjoko admits he sees many of the girls drinking too much and getting pregnant; he sees many of the guys dissing his chess games for gangs.

But he's gratified by the success stories.

One young San Francisco girl played in an all-girls tournament he set up. A few years later she was invited to a chess event in Texas. Afterward, she was recruited, he said, on a full scholarship to Texas Tech. "I literally cried at my desk," he said.

Another young boy he knew was severely overweight and doing poorly in school. Banjoko put him on a diet, and he gave him a workout chart and comic books to read. When the boy came back to school after the summer, he had lost 80 pounds. He now attends junior college.

"That's what I'm taking about," Banjoko said. "I'm just trying to help these kids navigate the streets."

Contact Lisa Fernandez at 408-920-5002.

 

 

 

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