(WPRI) – The game of chess can conjure up its own set of stereotypes.
James Medeiros, who struggled with “a lot of horror” as a teenager, doesn’t seem to fit any of them.
“I just love this game,” he said, while contemplating a move on a three-thousand pound chess table. “I don’t think I ran into this game as a coincidence. I believe I ran into it for a reason and here I am.”
He made the move with his bishop, and he also made the table that sits firmly in the Bennie Costa Plaza housing complex in Fall River.
Before Medeiros carved chess pieces and built colorful chess tables, he was a mental health worker in a psychiatric hospital.
One day he witnessed the magic of the 1500-year old board game as he watched a patient play.
“In one minute he could be in a crisis and violent,” Medeiros said. “And then, sit down and be fine and be engulfed in this game.”
Medeiros was inspired to learn more about chess, and about five years ago, he came up with a way to share his passion with strangers.
He built his first chess table out of concrete and colorful scraps for the Pleasant View public housing complex.
He made one for the hospital where he worked, and now there are seven of his creations peppered throughout Fall River.
“Adding them right into the infrastructure of a city as an architectural accent, just like a basketball hoop,” Medeiros said.
Marble, rebar, crushed glass and sea shells are all part of the recipe of Mind Fight Chezz Tables, as are people.
“Every table has a story,” Medeiros said.
One memorializes a friend who overdosed on heroin. Another stands strong in a local park.
Medeiros has also distributed about a hundred sets of chess pieces to local children, but one time he witnessed two players using rocks as they played checkers on one of the tables he donated.
His goal is to introduce the game to a new generation.
“You always have to be thinking ahead. Just like in life, you always have to be thinking ahead.”
Medeiros said. “It’s a thinking game. You sit down and relax and you think,”
Medeiros didn’t do much relaxing as a teenager, growing up in poverty in Fall River public housing.
Trouble collapsed on him at age 13, when his father committed suicide.
“I’ve seen a lot of horror in my life. I got kicked out of school several years in a row,” Medeiros said. “The alcohol. The drugs.”
That tragedy brings him to table number eight, currently under construction in his garage.
It will be placed in Bicentennial Park and dedicated to his 70-year-old uncle, Alphonse Araujo, a Vietnam veteran who helped him when he needed it most.
“Many a nights I ate dinner over his table. Now, I’m in a position to give a table back,” Medeiros said.
He’s invested his own time and money on the project so far, but hopes a corporation can help him do even more to bring this thinking man’s game to a new era that Medeiros says really needs to think about their next move.
“How about a thousand tables in Mass. and a thousand in Rhode Island. A hundred in this city,” Medeiros said. “I want this to be big.”