Once in a blue moon – or in the case of this month, a “pink moon” – a story crosses our path at BankMarketingCenter.com that’s bigger than banking, bigger than community, a story that packs timeless truths for humanity.
In March, the venerable CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” recounted the story of a teacher, Dr. Jeff Bullington and the children of Franklin County, Miss. It’s a story of how a new teacher in town used an ancient game –chess – to open the minds and hearts of a Southwest Mississippi community, and taught kids to dream—and dream big.
A little background: On the face of it. Franklin County seems a place forgotten. The trains don’t stop anymore; they simply pass through. There are only two red lights and one school in Franklin County, a community of 7,000.
Like the rest of Mississippi, faith and land are a big deal. But also like the rest of Mississippi, outsiders have a set stereotypical view. As one resident told “60 Minutes”:
“All the statistics, everything you look at, Mississippi is the poorest. It’s the dumbest. It’s the fattest. We know the rest of the nation has that conception of us.”
But the new teacher, Dr. Jeff Bullington, saw something else in Franklin. He saw children who could be another generation of the best of Mississippi, another Eudora Welty, or William Faulkner, or B.B. King. At 6-foot-6 inches tall, Bullington was a big man with big plans for the children of Franklin, built in the 1,500-year-old game of chess.
An anonymous benefactor convinced Bullington to travel south from Memphis to teach chess in one of the most economically disadvantaged areas in America. He saw more in the kids of Franklin that even they had seen of themselves.
“Afterwards, I was asked, ‘So hey, what do you think? Do you think these kids have it? Could you have a chess program here?’ “And I was yeah, of course. They’re as smart as any other kids I’ve ever met.”
Bullington signed a 10-year contract and moved from the city to the small town with two stoplights in the heart of the Bible Belt. Now some 200 kids play chess in Franklin County, and Bullington uses chess to teach kids at every grade level lessons in every academic discipline.
“We teach history. We teach geography. We teach science. We teach math. We teach it all using the chess board,” Bobby Poole told “60 Minutes.” Poole is a part-time preacher and Bullington’s full-time assistant coach.
He’s “opened up a new world to them,” “60 Minutes” reported.
It’s important to know, Bullington himself is not so different from his pupils. He grew up in rural Indiana, in a place not so different from Franklin. He’s one of them.
And now he has them believing in themselves. The chess whiz kids of Franklin dominated Mississippi’s interscholastic chess championships in Starkville and finished in the top 10 competing against some of the best players at a national competition.
“People said country kids couldn’t learn chess,” said one of Franklin’s best and brightest, Parker Wilkinson. “We showed ‘em different.”
The victories earned by the kids from rural Mississippi teach something more, a lesson they can carry in their hearts for a lifetime.
“That was very sobering for them, to suddenly realize, ‘Wow, we are good.’ So them having a realization of their own potential was a beautiful moment.”
That beautiful moment has helped spark stronger academic performance and dreams beyond the boundaries of Franklin County. According to “60 Minutes,” last year only seven of the 93 graduates of Franklin County High School went on to a four-year college. But every kid on Bullington’s team who was interviewed by the newsmagazine plans to go to college.
Rebekah Griffin, one of the young chess prodigies, put it this way: “I feel like chess could take us anywhere. But it’s not about where it takes us; it’s about how far it takes us.”
So, what does Franklin County’s story of kings, queens, bishops and dreams have to do with community banking?
Maybe at first blush, not much. But consider, community banks through serving as a benefactor for children, in music, the arts, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), or chess, can do something powerful. Dreams never dreamt can be unlocked. Unrealized potential can become reality. And children who never believed in themselves can become believers.
And, as a result, families, schools, communities all become better. And lives can be forever changed.
Consider the words of Helen Keller, who overcame deafness, blindness and the inability to speak to impact the world, thanks in large measure to her teacher, Anne Sullivan:
“What do I consider a teacher should be?” Keller wrote. “One who breathes life into knowledge so that it takes new form in progress and civilization.”
There may be a teacher waiting to “breathe life into knowledge” in your town, a teacher like Jeff Bullington, in need of a benefactor.
Can your bank be the key to unlock new dreams and transform your community?
Think on these things.
Please SHARE, LIKE or COMMENT on your thoughts.
Watch the entire “60 Minutes piece here. http://cbsn.ws/2nNzQF8