Will Smith In Negotiations To Play Philly Chess Player, Teacher


a highly-acclaimed performance as Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness,

Will Smith may play another real-life hero, Salome Thomas-El, in an upcoming Disney


is in negotiations to play Salome Thomas-El, a well known middle school principal

and school board member in Philadelphia. Thomas-El

chronicled his life in an autobiography called I Choose To Stay: A Black Teacher

Refuses to Desert the Inner City, and Disney decided to turn the book into

a motion picture based on Thomas-El’s inspirational story. “I’m

trying to get young people to understand that they have to try to give to the

community because the community gave to us,” Thomas El told AllHipHop.com.

“At some point the community supported us or our parents so that we could

be in the position where we are.” Born

into a fatherless home as one of eight kids in Philadelphia’s tough inner city,

Thomas-El left home to pursue his own dreams, only to return as a middle school

teacher in his old community. His

work as a teacher and principal at Reynolds Elementary School in North Philadelphia

caught the attention of community members and even California State Governor Arnold

Schwarzenegger, who awarded a $20,000 grant to Thomas-El’s school. In

his biography, Thomas-El notes the impact that the game of chess has had on his

life. At

a young age he learned the game of chess from an older brother, but never utilized

his chess skills until he became a teacher, using chess as a way to teach his

students many life-lessons, including decision-making, problem-solving, and critical-thinking

skills. “It’s

mentally challenging,” Thomas-El continued. “You know, we come from

a people that built pyramids that are still standing today with no machinery,

no modern technology, and no nothing. So, if a kid is trying to master 64 squares,

it’s mathematical and very scientific. But it’s also critical thinking, decision

making, problem solving, and these are all skills that our children have.”


success with students at Philadelphia’s Vaux Middle School playing chess has led

to eight national championships and many of his students became motivated to stay

in school, graduated and went on to attend college. “When

a young kid is growing up in the hood, they have to make several different life

changing decisions on a daily basis,” Thomas-El said. “He’s got to know

whose house to go into, whose house they are selling drugs out of, who drives

stolen cars, who’s carrying a weapon, who’s looking for who. Chess is a series

of decisions, consequences, rewards, sacrifices, and it’s so relevant to a kid

growing up in the projects and in public housing because you’ve got to be willing

to take prisoners when you play chess. So, really it’s like a release for these

kids who are dodging bullets every day.” Thomas-El

now works to spread chess to all school children, working with America’s Foundation

for Chess. Disney

Studios is preparing the untitled film on Thomas-El’s life, which was written

by Don D. Scott (Barbershop 1 and 2) and is based on the educator’s autobiography.His

second book, The Immortality of Influence features an excerpt written by

Will Smith.

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