Kamala Harris, vice president of the United States, credits early mentors, chess with her success

The U.S. Chess Center congratulates our newest, history-making and chess-playing Madam Vice President, Kamala D. Harris, who has frequently mentioned learning chess from her “Uncle Sherman” as a formative part of her childhood.

Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ

“I had a lot of – I mean, there were a lot of people in my life who’ve mentored me along the way – men and women. And, I mean, I told a story recently about my uncle Sherman who was a lawyer who – when I was a kid, he said I’m going to teach you how to play chess because you need to – you need to understand strategy. You need to understand because chess is a metaphor for life in so many ways. It’s a – you know, there’s the board, and there are all these different players that can move differently – right? – and they each have a power, a pretty profound power. And he taught me through teaching me chess how, one, everyone can move differently, each has power – a pawn can take out a king – and also taught me to learn that you have to, you know, try to really think about the 10th step before you take the first step. So that’s early in my life a mentor.”

NPR POLITICS PODCAST, June 12, 2019
A young Kamala Harris at her mother Shyamala’s laboratory at UC Berkeley. (Courtesy of Kamala Harris)

“Other nights, I would go over to Aunt Mary’s house, and Uncle Sherman and I would play chess. He was a great player, and he loved to talk to me about the bigger implications of the game: the idea of being strategic, of having a plan, of thinking things through multiple steps ahead, of predicting your opponent’s actions and adjusting yours to outmaneuver them. Every once in a while, he would let me win.”

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris (Published by Penguin Books)

“Our family consisted of a lot of aunts and uncles who were not born, the brothers and sisters of my mother. But in every way were my aunts and uncles, my Uncle Sherman, at a very young age taught us how to play chess. He said, I want you to learn about that board. I want you to learn to think steps ahead.”

CNN Special Report, Kamala Harris: Making History. Aired January 17, 2021

Kamala Devi Harris is an American politician and attorney who is the vice president of the United States. Harris served as a United States senator from California from 2017 to 2021, and as attorney general of California from 2011 to 2017. Born in Oakland, California, Harris graduated from Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. She began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, before being recruited to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and later the City Attorney of San Francisco’s office. In 2003, she was elected district attorney of San Francisco. She was elected Attorney General of California in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. Harris served as the junior United States senator from California from 2017 to 2021. Harris defeated Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate election to become the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the United States Senate. – Wikipedia

“Uncle Sherman” was Sherman L. Williams, an attorney and Harris family friend, who was married to Dr. Mary Agnes Lewis (“Aunt Mary”). Vice President Harris spent many evenings at their home where Uncle Sherman taught her chess and inspired her to pursue a career in the law.

Chris McCleary joins the U.S. Chess Center as Executive Director

Chris McCleary has been appointed the new Executive Director of the U.S. Chess Center.

The U.S. Chess Center is a DC-based non-profit that promotes self-confidence, social skills, and academic success for all.  The U.S. Chess Center provides students throughout the Washington metropolitan area opportunities to meet as friends and equals over the chessboard at our weekend classes, tournaments, and special events. The Center also operates numerous embedded school chess clubs and classes.  Our student programs have hosted World Champion Garry Kasparov, the national champions of Nigeria and Montenegro, and International Grandmasters including Maurice Ashley, the first African American Grandmaster.  Our students have played Internet matches with students from the Czech Republic, China, Norway, and Montenegro.

“I’m excited to be joining the U.S. Chess Center in this leadership role and look forward to continuing and expanding the programs we offer to area students. Chess was a meaningful part of my own academic life and had a positive impact on me. I’m proud that I’ll be doing my part to bring the benefits of chess to more students.”
Chris McCleary
Executive Director, U.S. Chess Center

Chris McCleary’s first official day with the U.S. Chess Center will be Monday, August 17th.  As Executive Director, McCleary will have responsibility for the day-to-day management and administration of the Center as well as resource and program development.  McCleary will be taking over from Robert Teachey, a United States Chess Federation Certified Advanced Chess Coach who was promoted to Executive Director of the Chess Center in 2017 and has served as a Teacher since 2010.  

Prior to joining the U.S. Chess Center, Chris McCleary served as the Vice President of Development for Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) and in the same position for SAFE’s sister organization, The Electrification Coalition.  McCleary is also the Chief Operating Officer of McCleary Psychological Services, a mental health practice that provides evidence-based therapy and psychological evaluations.  Chris also previously served as Development Director and chief fundraiser for the National Archives Foundation—the 501(c)(3) nonprofit partner of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)—and before that he held a series of senior management and fundraising roles with several DC-area think tanks and advocacy organizations, including Third Way, the Sunlight Foundation, and NDN & the New Policy Institute.  Before embarking on his non-profit career, McCleary spent over a decade as a political consultant and fundraiser for dozens of campaigns across the country.  McCleary holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University. 

The U.S. Chess Center Visits Cuba

The U.S. Chess Center took seven young chess ambassadors to Cuba from December 27, 2018, through January 3, 2019. We played chess with masters in three cities: Havana, Trinidad, and Camaguey, and with students in Havana and Camaguey.

To see even more photos, visit the blog of Reemberto Rodriguez. Mr. Rodreguez joined us on the trip.