In a photograph of the annual Juneteenth celebration at Flagstaff’s Murdoch Community Center, brothers Austin and Wakinya Black Elk-Begay, ages 10 and 9, can be seen hopping across squares of black and white -- Austin holding firmly to a plastic knight as the two duke it out in an oversized game of chess.
Volunteers at the Murdoch Center brought the makeshift board out on several occasions, setting it up and then disassembling it when events came to a close. But, with the recent addition of a chessboard and surrounding park, the game will become a permanent installation.
The new Murdoch Center chessboard measures 12X12 square feet, and each piece comes in at about three feet tall.
Deborah Harris, president of the Southside Community Association, said she hopes the permanent installation will foster community-strengthening efforts and by doing so, further the goals of the Murdoch Center itself.
“[This board] is designed as a community-builder and a space where people can come together maybe to learn how to play chess or just watch other people play," Harris said.
The Murdoch Center, which operated as the segregated Dunbar School from 1927 to 1954 in the historically black neighborhood of Southside, is funded in part by the city as well as United Way and has historically served as an important gathering ground for community members.
According to Harris, the new chessboard was made possible via donations and fundraising efforts.
“Blocklite donated the materials,” Harris said. “Home Depot gave us the actual squares that you use for the chess board -- they’re concrete pavers that we painted black and white.”
The park that surrounds the board has benches for onlookers. “Or simply to sit and ponder your next move,” Harris said.
Landscaping and patio pavers make up the frame-like shape of the park, with shrubs, trees and plants looking to be planted once the weather warms.
Harris said having a chessboard at the community center has been many years in the making.
“I’ve had this dream for a some years now and these chess boards are popular internationally and in this country,” she said.
With a $500 donation from a trust, the chessboard was given the necessary funding to get started. And with Blocklite’s donated materials, the installation was well on its way; however, the Murdoch Center still needs donations for the landscaping, which will be done by local business Agassiz Landscaping.
To do so, the center is looking to gather funds from the public. Members of the community, groups and businesses can buy a square of the chessboard for $50; that square will then be dedicated to its buyer and the names of donors will be displayed on a plaque in the park.
According to Harris, the chessboard and pieces will be out through November, weather permitting. Volunteers will move the pawns, kings, queens, bishops, rooks and knights indoors at night and for the duration of the winter. During the Murdoch Center’s hours of operation, community members can find all the pieces outdoors and at their disposal.
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