According to Reuters, the now-28-year-old was featured in the 2012 documentary Brooklyn Castle, which highlighted a chess club at a middle school in New York City. Ballantyne began learning chess from her grandma when she was 8 years old. She continued to hone her skills by competing in numerous contests.
While she climbed up the ranks, she noticed a few people in chess looked like her. “As I got better, there were less and less girls,” she told Today.
During chess tournaments, people would sometimes mistake her as “the help.” Ballantyne added that some even advised her to wear pants when she plays because she might “distract boys.”
She interned at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund while working three jobs to pay for law school. Her family used GoFundMe to fund travel and chess competition costs.
The trailblazer, who is in her first year as a lawyer after graduating from New York University’s law school, is now driven to encourage more Black girls to play chess.
“I do this becuase I do wanna see more Black girls playing chess. I do this because I grew up poor and this was a way for me to get into college for free,” she remarked.
She also told Reuters, “People just weren’t aware of how their statements impacted or left impressions on a little Black girl. Race always matters. And I think more people should understand that and recognize the effects of race in every aspect of our life, not just chess.”
Ballantyne expressed her desire to set a good example for her 10-year-old sister, to let her “know that there isn’t anything she can’t do if she works hard enough to do it,” she told Reuters.
According to the International Chess Federation, Ballantyne now has a world rank rating of 32751. Reuters reported that players who score 2,200 are considered chess masters. Ballantyne has achieved a rating of 1,962 in the past year. As she advances in her chess career, she said she will continue to honor her grandmother’s memories and represent black girls.
“First and foremost, it’s for my grandma. Secondly, there’s so many more black girls, little black girls, playing chess now, and it’s so cool to inspire them,” she expressed.