'Life of a King' Shows the Saving Power of Chess

Cuba Gooding Jr., 'Life of a King'
Cuba Gooding Jr. (right) stars in 'Life of a King.' (Millennium Entertainment)

Murder remains one of the leading causes of death for teenagers in America. The statistic has driven one man to spend more than 30 years saving lives in a unique way. 

He uses a board game, and his story is now the subject of a new film starring Academy Award-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr.

Eugene Brown's story begins in Washington, D.C., home to more than half a million people and at least a million stories.

At the heart of the inspiring tale is a little white house, just seven miles from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  

Bringing Chess to At-Risk Children
Brown bought the old house in the early 1990s. In a recent interview with CBN News, he described his story with a poem. 

"This is the story of a chess club, founded for inner-city youth. It's different from most. It is distinguished and boasts of not just teaching chess, but truth. It teaches young children to reason, to rationalize, to use good sense and intelligence against deception, treachery and lies," Brown recited.

"So at the Big Chair Chess Club we are on a mission to save the lives of our children, to teach the un-teachable, reach the unreachable and always think before you move," he continued.

When Brown first began teaching chess to disadvantaged children in D.C., he traveled to the city's toughest neighborhoods in an old station wagon, recruiting kids.

"I am going into my third decade of teaching chess," Brown said. "And I can actually say I am the one who brought chess east of the river in Washington, D.C."

Think Before You Move
Chess is more than a game to the D.C. native. It's a personal lifesaver and a gift for the thousands of children who've sat down with him over the years.

"Some of them never learn chess. They never learn how to be real good chess players. But that is not our mission. Our mission is to get them to think before they move," Brown told CBN News.

"I have seen too many kinds who make impulsive decisions that end up costing them the rest of their life," he said.

Impulsive decisions put Brown's son in jail for 16 years. His grandson is behind bars now. And despite his parents' love and hard work, Eugene did time too. 

CBN News paid a visit to the jail where Brown was sentenced after trying to hold up a bank for $3,200.

"I must have done almost 20 years on layaway plans. Seven years here. Eight years here. Six months here," Brown said, reflecting on his time in prison.

Brown spent more than a dozen years locked up at the New Jersey State Prison for that botched robbery attempt.

"I went in Trenton State Prison in New Jersey in 1969. I was a young guy. I didn't know anyone in that prison," he recalled.

Doing Time on the Chess Board
His time in New Jersey was among the toughest years of his life. But he still took solace in playing the game of chess.

"That's how I did my time, on the chess board," Brown said.

"I saw the Muslims. I saw the Christians. I saw the stick-up guys. I saw everybody has their cliques, and my click was chess, and that's what I carried around," he said.

Applying Chess to Your Life
The big change came when another inmate taught Brown to apply the game to his life.

"I said, 'Man, I lost,' and he said, 'Man you are never losing. You are learning lessons or you are teaching lessons. Chess is the only game that can't be won. It can only be played. Just like life,' " he explained.

Brown has been sharing those lessons with children since his release from that prison. The work has earned his chess team awards and recognition from the city.

Chess on the Big Screen
Their story now moves to the big and small screen in the film, Life of a King, starring Gooding.

Gooding compares this role to noble characters he played in films like Men of Honor, Red Tails and Gifted Hands.

Gooding discussed his new film with CBN News in New York City.

"When you learn about people doing great things like this, who have been incarcerated, it's easy to say he is a felon. He is an ex-convict," Gooding said. "But this is an ex-convict who made a difference in the life of these kids who are now considered intellectuals. And that connective tissue of society and life is what intrigues me."

"And I hope that people find healing in stories like this," Gooding continued.

Praying for Generational Blessings
Brown loves the film, but said he can't take credit for this latest move in his end game.

"The only reason this movie was made, the only reason I am here is it is an ancestral blessing. It is from my great, great grandmother: my grandmother prayed," Brown said. "I know my mother prayed. So, this is all of those people who prayed for our family, for me."

Looking back on his life, he thanked God for turning his tale of disgrace into a story of dignity.

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