Thursday, February 18, 2010


Laura Tillman
The Brownsville Herald

BROWNSVILLE — Actor, activist and filmmaker Edward James Olmos gave an impassioned speech to the Brownsville School Board at its meeting Tuesday evening, urging them to fund a documentary film that depicts the successful story of chess in Brownsville.

"Look at what chess has done for these students," Olmos said, after watching dozens of young chess champions receive certificates and pose with board members. "It breeds self-respect at the highest level. It infuses them with self-esteem and self-worth."
Olmos and Danny Haro, a filmmaker who recorded interviews and compiled footage to document the history of the chess program in Brownsville, are seeking about $175,000 in funding from the district to edit the documentary film, Kings of Brownsville, and distribute it. Haro also hopes to create educational materials to help teachers around the country create chess programs in their own schools. Olmos and Haro work with the Foundation for Advancements in Science and Education, a nonprofit organization that produces and researches educational media.

Olmos is well known for his roles in Battlestar Gallactica and Miami Vice, but perhaps best recognized for starring in the landmark film Stand and Deliver. In the film, Olmos depicted the real-life educator Jaime Escalante, who used advanced math to catapult underprivileged students to success. Olmos said that he was motivated by the game of baseball as a young person, but that he wished he had instead committed his time to chess.

He called Brownsville teachers and chess players "national heroes" and urged them to invest in a film project that he said would put the city on the map.
"Stand and Deliver is the single most important film in history," Olmos told the audience at the meeting. "More people have seen it than Jaws or Avatar. For 22 years teachers and students have watched that movie together. Invest in a film about yourselves. Allow people to understand the power and process it took to get to this level."

Olmos also urged the community to serve as an example for the rest of the nation.

"You think this happened in your community because Brownsville is richer? Because your children are smarter? No. It’s because you gave your children the opportunity to explore their brains."

Board members unanimously approved a motion to authorize the administration to seek a proposal to fund the film.

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