The Queen of Katwe’s Roots Run Through Lynchburg

Wiley|Wilson and its individual employee-owners have long been committed to educating young minds — not only in STEM subjects, but in other areas that build confidence and critically important problem solving skills. An example of this commitment will very soon be coming to a theater near you, in the Disney feature film Queen of Katwe, which opened September 23 in select theaters and opens September 30 nationwide. There is a deep connection between Phiona Mutesi and Robert Katende, whose story the film is based on, and Wiley|Wilson.

Phiona Mutesi grew up in the Katwe slum in Kampala, Uganda. (The extreme deprivation in the area is hard to imagine, but to give you an idea, Mutesi’s biographer Tim Crothers explains that “human waste from downtown Kampala is dumped directly into the slum. There is no sanitation.”) When she was a young child her father died of AIDS and a few years later her older sister also passed away. Because she could not afford to attend school, Mutesi dropped out when she was nine. However, she learned how to play chess after joining a chess program run by Robert Katende of the Sports Outreach Institute. The Sports Outreach Institute is headquartered in Lynchburg, and Tim Groover, Wiley|Wilson President & COO, is an Executive Board member of the organization.

“I became aware of Sports Outreach when a friend donated a couple dozen soccer balls to the organization in memory of our oldest daughter, who died in a traffic accident in 2002,” Tim explained. “That contribution spoke to my wife and me in many ways since our daughter played soccer, and she had a soft spot in her heart for people who experienced true suffering.”

Since 2002, the scholarship fund the Groovers established in their daughter’s memory has been used to support Sports Outreach in many ways.

Growing up in one of the poorest areas in the world, Mutesi was more interested in the cup of porridge being handed out for those who showed up for the chess program being run by Katende. A missionary and refugee of Uganda’s civil war, Katende started a chess program in Katwe when he noticed that several children did not seem interested in the soccer program he had already established. Mutesi’s aptitude for chess was clear from the day she showed up. She continued walking four miles a day to practice, at first motivated by that porridge but eventually because she began beating the older boys and girls at the school.

Katende is Sport Outreach’s Uganda Ministry Director and he and Mutesi have traveled to Lynchburg before, even staying with Tim and his family while in the US. The two served as honorary starters for the Angels Race in 2013. “The last time they were here we made sure Phiona got a new pair of glasses before returning to Uganda,” Tim said.

Sports Outreach works to restore hope in the communities it serves and uses sports ministry to alleviate human suffering and transform people’s lives. Read more about the organization and its many missions and projects here. Learn more about the Queen of Katwe and her inspiring story here, and see the trailer for the movie here.