MATC graduate using chess to help youths move in the right direction

MATC Foundation board president donates unique chess set to community group

Mark Feldmann,

September 08, 2022

MILWAUKEE – Success in life comes from making the right moves at the right time.

Raquel Aleman believes chess can show the way.

Aleman, a Milwaukee Area Technical College graduate and a real estate agent on Milwaukee’s south side, became involved in the Hip-Hop Chess Club in Milwaukee, part of a national effort to show youths ages 9 to 19 years old how to use chess strategy and music-making techniques to navigate complicated life situations.

In February 2020, Aleman helped transform the club into a nonprofit organization called Your Move MKE. Today she serves as executive director of the organization, which incorporates chess, hip-hop music, skilled trades and writing to teach life skills and provide safe spaces off the streets. 

To honor Aleman’s MATC connection and her commitment to the community, MATC Foundation Board President Julianna Ebert recently donated to Your Move a unique chess set and board created and crafted by MATC students in the CNC machining and carpentry programs.

Ebert presented the board and pieces to Aleman and other members of Your Move on August 31 at MATC’s Downtown Milwaukee Campus. Ebert arrived with the set boxed and covered in bright orange wrapping paper and blue bow.

Ebert and her husband, Frank Daily, received the set several years ago for their financial support of the MATC Promise program, in which students earn up to 75 credits of free tuition – after other scholarships and grants are applied – to complete an associate degree or technical diploma related to an in-demand career.

“We have been proud to own it and we have admired the craftsmanship of what our students were able to do,” Ebert said about the board. “We are proud to pass it on to you and to encourage all the good things you are doing.”

Aleman overcame a troubled youth – she lived in 18 different places and she was pregnant when she graduated from Bay View High School – to eventually attain an associate degree in business management through the MATC Promise program, and, at the same time, earn a real estate certificate.

The Your Move MKE chess club holds games every third Friday at Ms. Yesenia’s Creative Studio, 2926 West Forest Home Avenue. The club also hosts pop-up sessions at various locations around the south side, Aleman said. The organization is working to raise money to have their own building.

There are usually between five and 10 boards being played at the monthly sessions, and between four and six boards at the pop-ups, said Luis Baran, Your Move’s membership director.

“There aren’t really that many chess places anymore, so we get people of all ages,” Baran said. “Several players bring their own boards, their own clocks. We always have at least one table of pretty serious players.”

Over the last two years, Aleman said she has used chess tactics and chess strategy to connect with hundreds of preteens and teens.

“I’m sitting at the same table with them, I’m sitting at the same board with them,” Aleman said. “It brings you down to the same level, and it’s a lot easier to build a rapport with them at that point. That’s when we can try to make a real difference.”

Aleman said her chess players will adore the polished wood board, which measures about 18 inches long, 18 inches wide, and is a few inches thick. The 64 squares on the board alternate between light and dark grain. The gleaming metal pieces are silver and black, and feature intricately cut detailing.

Aleman said Your Move probably will use the new board for advanced players, or at a future tournament. 

“The kids have been asking us a lot about setting up a tournament of some kind,” said Anthony Mckenzie, communications director at YourMove. “Hip-hop is competitive. Chess is competitive. You better believe these kids are competitive.”

Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 25,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 170 academic programs; and transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.