By Airik Myers, The Seattle Medium
When it comes to community policing in Seattle one name comes to mind – Det. Cookie. Denise “Cookie” Bouldin’s passion and desire for kids and community has been evident since she joined the Seattle Police Department (SPD) in the 1980’s.
As she looks to have an impact beyond her role as a member of SPD, Det. Cookie has always been supportive of youth groups and youth activities. From the time she became an officer with SPD until this day, she has been working with young people to find activities for them to do, and her Chess Club is an extension of that.
“I’m the type of officer, I always interact with the youth and try to find stuff for them to do or see what’s going on in their lives,” says Detective Cookie. “The Chess Club originated out of a need for the youth to have something [positive] to do.”
The Chess Club meets weekly at Rainier Beach Library after school on Tuesdays from 3: 00 pm to 6:00pm, and at Rainier Beach Community Center on Saturdays from 12 noon to 2:00 pm. At the Chess Club people from 7 years old to adults come and play with any and everyone who is available to play. Members who don’t know how to play chess are taught by either Det. Cookie or one of her chess instructors. The chess coaches also teach advance chess to those who have a basic understanding of chess and have played before. They also have festive pop-up events that include a DJ playing music, free pizza, chicken and water for all who want to play chess.
Due to the Coronavirus, the group has been forced to play either outside at various community festivals or online. However, that has not taken away from the success of the program. During the pandemic, the youthful chess players have played people from all around the world, including players from China, Holland, Africa, Iran, and Canada to name a few. In addition, one of the female students in the program is the #1 ranked elementary division in the world, and one of the male students is the #1 ranked middle school-high school division in America.
“I am so proud of them,” says Det. Cookie. “I want to thank National Chess Master Josh Sinanan and the Washington State Chess Federation for making it possible for my youth to participate in the online Chess.”
According to Det. Cookie, the idea for the Chess Club originated in 2006, after youth in the community played a basketball game against police officers from SPD. The game was a huge success, and there was talk about doing a similar activity the following year. But in speaking with kids from the community, Det. Cookie learned that not all of the kids wanted to play basketball. After considering other options, like a pool party or a barbeque, one of the students suggested having a chess tournament.
The suggestion caught the interest of Det. Cookie’s supervisor at the time. So, they decided to host a chess tournament and invited kids from the community to participate. However, when the participants showed up for the event, Det. Cookie and her colleagues discovered a problem — only 2 of the 30 or so kids that showed up knew how to play chess. Det. Cookie, at the time, didn’t know how to play either, so there was no way to teach the eager participants how to play. The chess tournament ended up being the two children playing against each other while everyone else stood around and watched.
After the event, Det. Cookie set out to change the narrative around chess for both herself and the kids. She secured funding from both the Seattle Foundation and the Seattle Police Foundation to buy chess boards and to hire eight chess instructors. She also secured the community room at the Rainier Beach library, so they could have a permanent location where they could teach the kids to play chess, and from there she started the Chess Club and it has grown in ever since.
“I had maybe about 10 kids show up [at first],” says Det. Cookie. “And then the next week I had 27 kids, then the next 30, 60 something, I mean, it was a big hit. And I was telling the kids, you know, invite a friend, invite a friend.”
One of the obstacles when it comes to playing chess is apprehension. That apprehension can come from several different factors. Some may see it as something “only White people do”, as a few of Det. Cookie’s students thought. Others might think it’s too difficult to learn, or that their brain isn’t wired to understand chess, a thought that had initially crossed Det. Cookie’s mind when it came to the thought of playing chess.
However, within Detective Cookie’s Chess Club there are many examples of kids that would be brought to the club by their parents either not liking or not knowing how to play chess that by the end of their first day wouldn’t want to go home.
After attending on of the 30-minute training sessions herself, Det. Cookie became addicted to chess. From carrying a roll up chess board in her purse to increasing the popularity of the club, she went all out with chess and the positive impact it can have on the community.
“[I initially thought] my brain doesn’t work right for chess,” she said. “So, the American foundation for Chess contacted me and said, ‘Detective Cookie, we heard and read your story where you said that you know don’t how to play chess because you find it is not made for you. Let us take you to one of our trainings on a Saturday.’””
“So, I went to that training and in 30 minutes I was playing chess and I was loving it,” says Det. Cookie. “I started carrying a chess board with me everywhere. I was so excited.”
One of the things about chess is you don’t have to be the biggest. You don’t have to be the tallest, or the fastest, or the strongest, and you could still play chess. Chess is a sport of the mind where that is all it takes. You don’t even have to speak the same language, all you have to do is sit down across from somebody, or online, and play the game.
Drawing from her own experience, Det. Cookie and her staff at the club inspired students to have fun playing chess. They teach them to understand that chess is a game that anyone can learn to play.
While the basic premise of the chess club is about fun and games, Det. Cookie and the police department also use it as a tool to help curb violence in the community. Her goal is to get people to fight with their minds and not with their fists or weapons.
“My whole thing now is, you know, bring it to the chess board. Don’t bring it to the streets,” says Det. Cookie. “Being out in the street, showing your manhood or whatever you want to call it, your girlhood. No. Bring it to the chess board. Usually when people play chess, they see a different person. I’ve had gang members that I have encouraged [through chess] and pulled them off the street.”
While the notion of interacting with gang members and/or tough kids might not be at the top of your list of things to do on a weekend, Det. Cookie believes that having people who live in the same community sit down, interact, engage with and get to know one another over a game of chess is a way to rebuild trust, understanding and the notion of being a good neighbor.
Because of the massive positive impact on the community that the club has had, and the need to grow, there are plans of creating a Chess Park! This Park is an effort to commemorate the work that Det. Cookie has done in the community as well as provide a larger, open space for the Chess Club to grow. This pandemic has displayed the importance in having an open, casual space where people can play chess against each other. The Park has received funding and grants in efforts to be completed in the near future. There are a King and Queen statue currently in the space of the park, named the “King and Queen of Rainer Beach”.
If you would like to learn more about the Chess Club, or the Chess Park, feel free to visit the Facebook page, Detective Cookie Chess Park, or the website, https://detectivecookiechesspark.org/.