Life of a King. Director: Jake Goldberger. Starring: Cuba Gooding, Jr., Dennis Haysbert, Lisa Gay Hamilton. Length: 100 minutes.
This is a delightful little film about an extremely inspirational man, Eugene Brown. Brown’s story begins all-too typically – a poor, inner city kid hangs with the wrong crowd, fathers a couple of children, gets into trouble, goes to jail, and comes out with the stigma of being a felon.
With that sort of background, Brown might have remained a statistic. He had, however, learned to play chess during his prison years and was determined to change his own life, coming – by twists and turns – to the “re-purposing” of an abandoned house into a safe place for neighborhood youngsters to play. Under Brown’s watchful eye, they not only learned a complicated, intellectual game but applicable life-lessons, as well: “to always think before you move,” “to envision the endgame,” to learn discipline and self-control, and to sit still.
Life of a King was made to honor Brown’s work. It’s dramatic and well-acted and certainly encourages the viewer to reconsider how one looks at the desperate, young men and women who cause so much grief to themselves and to society. Their lives are often unspeakably difficult…but not without hope.
What makes this so compelling is, that despite these difficulties, Brown isn’t making excuses for anyone, least of all himself. “You might be in a winning position in your life, but you can’t see it that way because you’re only looking at it in one way. Start looking at things from a different direction. What’s the problem? Always identify the problem. Find the problem, that’s the first step to learn. After you find the problem, what’s the solution? What can you do? Even if those pieces weren’t there, remove those pieces that stop you from getting to the solution, clear them out of the way of your mind, and then come up with a plan. So how do you get those pieces out of the way? That’s how you’ll solve the problem.”
Brown tells a story about working with the kids at his “Big Chair Chess Club.” He was asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up and one, reluctantly, answered that he wanted “to be a man.”
“I can relate that to chess,” Brown says, “a man is someone who accepts full responsibility for any move that he makes. And in chess terms I call that accepting the kingship of your life. When you accept the fact that you are the king on the board and all other pieces actually rely on you and that all other pieces on the board rely on your decisions, not only for yourself but for them, that’s when you when you are in control of your side of the board.” [Brown quotes from an interview with Lee Nentwig, “Take Care of the King,” Paradigm, 2-20-14]
Spero columnist Stephanie Block is the author of the four-volume 'Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing Among Religious Bodies.'