This post was originally published on St. Louis American

By Alvin A. Reid 

Chris Hayden and his wife, Chamon, were so enthusiastic about their sons Michael, 9, and Christopher, 6, participating in the Legacy Institute program that they became involved as well.

“This is definitely something we wanted our sons to be a part of,” Chris Hayden said. “We were looking for various options this summer and came away impressed with the initial interview process and orientation.”

Legacy recently completed its first year and will be returning in 2023. The 10-week Saturday mentoring program for youths, ages five to 24, includes courses on chess, Black history, politics, journalism, and technology. Classes were held at Confluence Academy in downtown St. Louis.

There is also instruction on debate, which played a role in the Hayden’s future.

“Michael told me one day that I should spend more time with them. I said, ‘state your case, and I won’t rebut,’” Chris Hayden said.

His son’s structured argument was a winner.

“I told him and the family I will find the time to be with them more,” said Hayden, a Missouri Department of Transportation engineer.

Terran Rome, executive director of Legacy Institute, called the program “a family thing.”

“We must get families involved as much as the kids,” he said.

Rome said the younger students “jumped right in and wanted to learn everything.”

“With the older group, we had to get them to buy in. It took a little longer. We convinced them that we are not trying to take anything away, we are trying to add something.’

The close of the inaugural year doesn’t signal an end to the program’s impact on young lives.

“They have a success coach that they are linked with. We can assist with trying to find a job, and help determine opportunities for scholarships,” Rome said.

Nicolya Thomas, Legacy Institute program director and a special education teacher in the Kirkwood School District, said the program helps the students excel and “helps build our community.”

“There is a misconception that [Black] families don’t want to learn,” she said.

“The program shows our young people are resilient and how willing they are to learn, retain, and share. This exposure gets them into things outside computer games and athletics. They need that.”

Thomas praised the parents and adult volunteers who participated and made the program’s first year a success.

“Learning is a journey. It is beautiful, and it never stops,” she said.

Taylah Qualls, a rising junior at Hazelwood East highs School, said learning more Black history was what impressed her during the Saturday sessions.

“We learned things they don’t teach us anymore in school,” she said.

“Martin Luther King, we all know. We talked about other civil rights leaders and what they did.”

Qualls, who sees a future as a graphic designer, said she also “really likes chess.”

“It builds strategy and exercises your mind a little more.”

She added with a smile, “I’ve gotten pretty good.”

Ja’Den Carter, a rising senior at Hazelwood West High School, said he appreciates the challenge of chess and the role it now plays in his life.

“It makes you think ahead. I can apply it to regular life,” he said.

Legacy began before the school year had ended, and Carter said playing chess on his phone and then on a board on Saturdays played a role “in my grades coming up.”

“We also learned so much about Black history. They teach us stuff they don’t in school. We learned why the people in it were protesting, not just what they were protesting,” Carter explained.

Chris Hayden summed it up by saying Legacy “is awesome.”

Rome said he crafted Legacy Institute “to give our kids the same resources that other communities give theirs.”

He is thrilled that the program will be back next year but isn’t taking a bow.

“I’m not a genius. I’m just a Black man trying to help out,” he said.