8-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi didn’t know how to play chess a little over a year ago, now he’s a champion in New York. Despite a field containing private school students with personal chess coaches, Adewumi was grinning ear-to-ear after winning his age group at the New York State Chess Championships.
The Adewumi family fled Nigeria in 2017 after fearing for their lives during attacks by Boko Haram on Christians. Kayode Adewumi explained the decision to move his family to the United States, telling the New York Times:
“I don’t want to lose any loved ones.”
A pastor helped them settle into a homeless shelter and Tanitoluwa (who goes by “Tani”) enrolled at P.S. 116 in Midtown. It’s here that he learned to play chess, and immediately fell in love with the game. Unable to pay the fees for Tani to join the chess club, the team’s coach waived them considering the family’s situation. Tani started with a ranking of 105, the lowest in the club a the bottom rank of novice players.
Now, little over a year later his rank is 1587, taking him out of the “novice” rank and putting Tani on the cusp of being a Class B professional.
Tani’s parents did everything in their power to support his love of chess. Whether it was Tani’s mom who took him to three-hour practices in Harlem every Saturday, or his dad who works two jobs to provide for his family and still took time to practice with Tani at night.
Russell Makofsky, organizer of the P.S. 116 chess club said that while Tani and his family aren’t wealthy, they are “rich beyond measure” because of the love and support they have for each other.
Makofsky shook his head wonderingly. “One year to get to this level, to climb a mountain and be the best of the best, without family resources,” he said. “I’ve never seen it.”
The Adewumi family are still waiting to receive their asylum status. Their next hearing will take place in August and it’s unclear what will happen to them long-term, but for now the world is rallying around Tani’s achievement and trying to make their lives better.
A GoFundMe was established to help move the Adewumis out of their homeless shelter and into a home. Seeking $50,000 to move, in just over a week the campaign has raised $236,643 at the time of writing. Enough money to move the family into a home, pay for the legal fees required to advocate for their asylum status and take care of their living expenses. Now, with the goal met four-times over the family will take the leftover funds and create “The Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation,” to pay forward the generosity shown to them and share with others in need.
Refugees like the Adewumi family are what makes America great.