Shorewood — When Anjana Murali was in the fifth grade, a boy told her he would win in chess simply because he was playing against a girl. Murali, now a senior at Shorewood High School, set out to prove him wrong and has done so ever since.
In December, Murali is hosting her third all-girl chess camp that focuses on female empowerment. To help along her efforts to show young girls they can have a powerful voice, even in the male-dominated game of chess, Murali was recently awarded an ANNpower Project grant.
The grants are awarded to high school females who have enacted social change projects in their communities. ANN Inc., the parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT, partnered with Vital Voices to form the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative in an effort to empower young women from across the U.S. with leadership skills.
Every year, 50 high school juniors and seniors around the nation are selected to attend a three-day leadership training and mentorship program in Washington, D.C. Murali was nominated by Girl Scouts of U.S.A. She serves on the board of directors for the Girls Scouts of Southeast Wisconsin. ANNpower selected her to participate in the forum where she was mentored by female leaders across the globe. Her mentor was a presidential candidate from Cameroon.
"These honorees are coveted around the nation because they did such great things," Murali said.
After the forum, the 50 girls are charged with an ANNpower project and become eligible to receive a grant to help them implement projects in their communities. Murali was one of 20 to receive a grant so she can continue to offer the all-female chess camp she started last year.
One loss leads to many wins
When Murali stepped into her first chess tournament in fifth grade, she was the only girl.
"I walked in and was really nervous and my opponent turned to his friend and said 'Oh, I'm playing a girl. I'll be done in five minutes,'" Murali said. "It was my first tournament so I lost, which was kind of humiliating, and I realized it's OK that I lost, but he doesn't have the right to say that to me."
Murali turned that experienced into a mission of female empowerment. She went on to become the female chess champion in the state of Wisconsin two years later.
"I faced that humiliation, but I never want to face that again, and I never want another girl to face the same thing," she said.
For her Girl Scouts Gold Project, which is the highest honor bestowed by the Girl Scouts, Murali organized a two-day all-girls chess camp in December 2012, called Queen's Game for 75 girls from the Milwaukee area. The camp was free of charge thanks to a $5,000 grant Murali obtained from Lead 2 Change, a youth leadership organization.
"They came, learned how to play chess, and I also mentored them about being a girl and standing up for who you are," she said.
Creating a local legacy
Murali applied and obtained two more grants from Radio Disney and Inspire by Example, which she used to host a three-day chess camp for 50 girls this past summer.
The grant from ANNpower will go to fund another chess camp in December, this time with a new twist. The latest camp will connect chess with STEM awareness.
"Chess is in that male-dominated area, but so is math, science, technology and engineering (STEM)," Murali said. "There's more of a push for girls to join STEM, so why not relate stem to chess because chess does enhance your brain and it shows that people who are better at chess are better at math."
Though Murali may leave Shorewood after she graduates at the end of the school year, her legacy will remain. The Wisconsin Scholastic Chess Federation has committed to running both chess camps in coming years.
Murali, too, will continue to focus on her passion for chess. She recently received an invitation from the United States Chess Federation to help in a new initiative to attract more females to the game of chess. Her goal is to bring the all-girls chess camp to a national scale.
"As long as there is need for what I'm doing, then I'll do it," Murali said.
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