Phiona Mutesi, whose aptitude for the game of chess took her from an impoverished African slum and transformed her into the Queen of Katwe, the subject of a Hollywood movie, shared the inspiring story of her life Saturday with a group of young students in Rohnert Park.
“Chess has given me a platform where I can speak and restore hope for people without hope,” the 21-year-old internationally recognized chess player from Uganda said during an appearance at the Rohnert Park Senior Center.
The event, organized by local nonprofit Chess For Kids, introduced 30 students to the real people whose lives inspired the 2016 Disney film “Queen of Katwe” and a 2012 book of the same title.
The day started with a screening of the two-hour film and then introduced the children to Mutesi, fellow Ugandan chess player Benjamin Mukumbya, 19, and their instructor, Robert Katende. Mutesi and Mukumbya played chess with each of the students, jumping from board to board as the Ugandan chess celebrities engaged in 30 simultaneous games, one move at a time.
“We’re going to give 30 kids a lifelong memory,” said Marc Hayman, the lead instructor at Chess For Kids, which operates in about 50 schools in Sonoma County.
Mutesi grew up in Katwe, a slum in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. At the age of 9, she found her family couldn’t afford to keep her in school, so she dropped out and began selling corn on the street.
She ran into Katende, who was developing a chess program at the Sports Outreach Institute, and her life took a dramatic turn toward eventual international stardom. Children from the slum began earning a reputation for their chess skills under Katende’s tutelage.
Mukumbya, who entered the same chess program as Mutesi, also competes internationally. In the film his character is shown flying to Juba, South Sudan for a regional chess…