Although he is living in a homeless shelter and only learned to play chess a year ago, Tanitoluwa Adewumi, an eight-year-old Nigerian refugee, won the New York State Championship earlier this month.
The story has been covered by major news outlets all over the world.
Tanitoluwa was seven years old when he, his parents and his older brother reportedly fled from Nigeria in search for a safer place. Threatened by terrorist group Boko Haram, which is attacking Christians like his family, they left the country and ended up in New York in 2017.
Tani, as he is called by his friends, began attending the local elementary school, P.S. 116 located in Manhattan’s Kips Bay/Murray Hill neighborhood. There, a part-time chess teacher at the school taught him to play.
When Tani’s mother Oluwatoyin Adewumi wrote the school that her son was interested in joining the chess club, she had to add that she couldn’t contribute much. The family was living in a homeless shelter.
Russell Makofsky, program director of Impact Coaching Network, which organizes chess lessons in the school, decided to waive the fees. A year later, the boy has a USCF rating of 1473 and is #27 in America for eight-year-olds. (Full disclosure: ChessKid.com is used by all Impact Coaching Network chess students.)
On March 9 and 10, Tani participated in the New York State Championship. He won the category for children of his age, kindergarten to third grade, with five wins and one draw.
“I want to be the youngest grandmaster,” he told the New York Times.
Primary NY State Championship Final Standings
Jane Hsu, the principal of P.S. 116, told the New York Times: “It’s an inspiring example of how life’s challenges do not define a person.”
Credit should first go to the New York Times, and its two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof for reporting this remarkable story. Meanwhile, it has been picked up by e.g. El País, The Telegraph, NBC, CBS, Insider and Yahoo, and has close to 600 comments on Reddit.
Makofsky set up a GoFundMe account to help Tani and his family. At the time of writing, the account has received $187,760, almost four times the goal of $50.000. Update: Makofsky said that the money already raised has been enough for the family to move into an apartment.)
Meanwhile, former U.S. president Bill Clinton reportedly invited Tani and his parents to his office in Harlem, saying: “Tanitoluwa, you exemplify a winning spirit – in chess and in life. And kudos to your hardworking parents. You all should stop by my office in Harlem; I’d love to meet you.”
From The New York Times to the back cover of El Pais (the largest newspaper in Spain), the story of Tanitoluwa Adewumi has made headlines all over the world: the 8-year-old boy from Nigeria who won the New York State Championship (K-3) while living in a refugee shelter. pic.twitter.com/xHM5KD4mI5
— David Llada ♞ ( @davidllada) March 19, 2019
Will we see Tani playing on international championships? How far can talent grow with dedication?https://t.co/PcIaqOR2m9
— Judit Polgar ( @GMJuditPolgar) March 20, 2019