The Nigerian refugee who lives in a homeless shelter in Manhattan was recently crowned chess champion in New York's statewide competition.
Talent is universal, it's all about getting the right opportunities. This homeless refugee from Nigeria got lucky to be in Manhattan to finally show the world his talents. 8-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi, who lives in a Manhattan homeless shelter with his family, recently won the kindergarten to third grade statewide chess competition in New York. The boy fled Nigeria with his family back in 2017 in fear of their life from the threats posed by the Boko Haram terrorists in the area. The family was a target of the terrorist group as they are all devout Christians. The family now lives in a homeless shelter while their application for asylum is still pending. Tani, as he is called by his friends and family, now carries a huge trophy in his arms, unfazed by the screams of his troubled neighbors. The boy went undefeated through the competition, outsmarting other players.
Tani learned how to play chess just around a year ago and who knew that this would be what he would become best at. The boy now aims at becoming the 'the youngest grandmaster', as reported by The New York Times. The competition was held last weekend. Most participants belonged to elite families who went to private schools and took private chess training classes. The boy who did not have access to such classes managed to be unbeaten throughout the competition. This is not the first time that Tani has won a trophy for his amazing skill and brains.
The boy who learned the game just last year is said to have significantly improved every single month that he played. He now has seven trophies lying beside his bed in the shelter. In an interview with the Times, the boy said that he and has family fled in fear of the Boko Haram terrorists in his area. “I don’t want to lose any loved ones,” said his father, Kayode Adewumi. When the family arrived in New York City, a pastor helped them in getting a place to stay at a homeless shelter in Manhattan.
Tani began attending the local elementary school, P.S. 116. The school has a part-time chess teacher who helped Tani and his class how to play chess. The boy fell in love with the game and pleaded his mother, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, to let him join the chess club. His mum then emailed the club, requesting them to take Tani in. She informed them that she would not be able to pay the fee for the program since the family was living in a shelter. Tani's father works as a real estate broker and an Uber driver. All their money goes into taking care of the family; they simply could not afford to pay for the chess club.
Russell Makofsky, who oversees the P.S. 116 chess program, was understanding of the situation and waived the fees. The boy took part in his first tournament a year ago with the lowest rating any player had, 105. His rating is now 1587 and rising fast. (By comparison, the world’s best player, Magnus Carlsen, stands at 2845.) His style of play is said to be aggressive and ruthless. The coaches and trainers on the sidelines were shocked when in a game he sacrificed a bishop for a pawn. They were surprised. However, they fed the move into a computer and it agreed with his move, recognizing that it would benefit him a few moves later.
“It’s an inspiring example of how life’s challenges do not define a person,” said Jane Hsu, the principal of P.S. 116, which held a pep rally to celebrate Tani’s victory. Although the boy currently lacks a home, he is given a lot of support by his parents and teachers, all of whom are dedicated to seeing him succeed. Tani’s mom can’t play chess but takes him every Saturday to a three-hour free practice session in Harlem. His father allows him to practice on the laptop every evening. The family is very religious but allow Tani to miss Church on Sundays if he has a tournament to go to.
“Tani is rich beyond measure in the strength, love, and support of his family," said Makofsky. Things sometimes get rough for the 8-year-old boy. He is teased in school by the other kids for being homeless. At an immigration hearing last year, he broke down when he misunderstood the judge to say that the family would be deported. His parents are trying the best they can to provide him with everything he needs. His father is working two jobs and his mother recently passed a course to become a home health aide.
Tani tries to put all his troubles behind him and focus on his game. He sits on the shelter floor and practices chess for hours every evening. Tani is now preparing for the elementary national championship in May. “He is so driven,” said his school chess teacher, Shawn Martinez. “He does 10 times more chess puzzles than the average kid. He just wants to be better.”
“One year to get to this level, to climb a mountain and be the best of the best, without family resources,” said Makofsky. "I've never seen it."
Tani is a source of inspiration to refugees across the world, letting them know that talent is universal and that all they need to do is find a way to showcase it. After hearing about his story, many people stepped up to help Tani and his family. There is a GoFundMe page that has been set up for the family. If you are interested in donating a certain amount and in helping the boy achieve his dreams, click here.