“Brooklyn Castle”

Justus Williams, chess master & one of the stars of "Brooklyn Castle"

Justus Williams, chess master & one of the stars of “Brooklyn Castle”

I can’t stop thinking about “Brooklyn Castle”.

It’s the story of young kids in a Brooklyn public school who’ve won more chess championships in the last decade than any school in the nation. Watch the movie on Netflix or DVD. You’ll be inspired by the kids’ spirit and accomplishment, by the teachers’ passion and commitment, and by the way they all deal with financial difficulties at home and at school.

Another reason I keep thinking about “Brooklyn Castle”  is because it highlighted how working in an open, connected way can bring about a whole new set of possibilities.

It started when…

The movie was released in 2012, but I first heard about it in last summer. Fred Wilson, my favorite venture capitalist blogger, wrote about it in June of 2013:

“So here’s the deal. This chess program at IS 318 takes three big trips a year to state and national tournaments, they have a full time faculty advisor, they study at the Marshall Chess Club, and they have a bunch of training materials they use every year. It’s an expensive operation but it produces results. They are the NY Yankees of middle school chess teams. They turn kids from the streets of NYC into chess masters. And I do not think you can put a price on that.

The program was at one time funded by the school system. But budget cuts in the past five years have cut away that funding and the program has been kept alive in recent years by the generosity of a few big donors.

I saw the movie and read about the cuts and thought “this is what crowdfunding was made for”…”

Connecting dots

So I watched the movie and was thrilled. Then I watched it again with friends. I tweeted about it and got this response from the Assistant Principal, John Galvin, whom I genuinely consider a hero for what he does with the kids at I.S. 318:

Fred Wilson wanted to raise $20,000 using donorschoose.org, a crowd-funding platform for public schools that “makes it easy to help classrooms in need.” Fred’s campaign  wound up raising $67,784.99. I signed up and started to contribute to a few things.

And now I could start to see some connections.

I’m using social platforms for work, so crowd-funding is interesting to me. And I’m interested in education, not only because of my 5 kids but because my cousin has long inspired me with the amazing elementary school she founded and continues to run 34 years later. One of the 25 books that changed me was “Whatever It Takes” about Geoffrey Canada’s school programs in Harlem.

But so what?

Purposeful discovery & Working Out Loud

Last week, in a post about Working Out Loud, one of the comments was that “the mere notion of putting yourself on an exposed and public pedestal is not for everyone”. She was right, of course. But now, more than ever, you can read, interact, and contribute in all sorts of ways before stepping on that pedestal. And that’s a simple and fundamental part of working out loud.

Reading Fred’s blog led me to watching the movie. Tweeting about it connected me to John Galvin. That sense of connection led me to care more about donorschoose.org which led to contributions and discussions with my cousin and other teachers.

What’s next? Maybe one day I’ll visit I.S. 318 with my cousin who, it turns out, has just started a chess program at her school.

Or maybe I’ll teach kids how to work out loud and have more control of their careers.

Or maybe all the proceeds from the book I’m writing will go to donorschoose.org so every reader can be a part of making a difference in our public schools.

What’s interesting to me is that all of these possibilities are brand new. I’m seeing how, for myself and for the people I coach in a 12-week program, working out loud extends beyond the workplace and careers. It leads to looking at the world in a more open, connected way. It leads to finding miracles like the people and the story in “Brooklyn Castle” and to possibilities that make life richer and more wondrous.

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About John Stepper

Driving adoption of collaboration and social media platforms at Deutsche Bank. (Opinions here are my own.)
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