Tanitoluwa Adewumi aims to become the youngest chess grandmaster after winning in his category at his first New York State chess championship. Simply known as “Tani,” the eight-year-old has come a long way in the face of adversity.
Tani and his family fled Nigeria in 2017 to escape Boko Haram terrorist attacks on Christian families like their own. The Adewumis arrived in New York City just over a year ago, and with the help of a pastor, they moved into a homeless shelter. Tani was subsequently enrolled in elementary school at P.S. 116. Tani’s parents said that he would come home from school crying after peers made fun of him for being homeless.
Tani did still enjoy school, particularly after one of his teachers, Russell Makofsky, taught the class how to play chess. Tani was hooked on the game and urged his mom to let him join the school’s chess club, led by Mr. Makofsky. Mrs. Adedwumi emailed the chess club, expressing Tani’s desire to join but explained that they were not able to pay the fees.
Mr. Makofsky waived the fees, and for the past year has watched Tani thrive into the player he is today. A year ago, he had the lowest rating of any participant at his very first tournament but soon had seven trophies shining next to his bed at the shelter. Tani’s rating is now nearly half as much as the world’s best player.
Makofsky, for one, is incredibly amazed at his prodigy student. “One year to get to this level, to climb a mountain and be the best of the best, without family resources. I’ve never seen it,” he told The New York Times.
While Tani continues to work towards his goals of becoming a grandmaster, his story has already done wonders for his family. Since the NYT article was published, the family received hundreds of offers for housing and donations. Lawyers even stepped up to represent the family pro bono, as they are still currently seeking asylum.
A GoFundMe page set up by his teacher has already raised over $200,000, but the Adewumi’s – who’ve since moved into their own apartment – chose not to use any of it for themselves. Instead, they’ve donated ten-percent to the church that helped them, and put the rest towards the Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation “to share the generosity of others to those in need.”