The story of Tanitoluwa Adewumi is an inspiring one, and a delightful one. From escaping Boko Haram in Nigeria to becoming chess champion in the whole of New York, Tani Adewumi is the 8-year-old chess champion who has defied odds. And it is a clear attestation to the tonnes of ambition that the child has.
He was crowned the champion for kindergarten through 3rd grade. He went undefeated at the state tournament. Speaking to a New York Times reporter, the young boy exclaimed, "I want to be the youngest grandmaster."
In 2017, fearing attacks by Boko Haram on Christians, Tani's family fled to the United States. A pastor steered them to a homeless shelter when they arrived, and Tani enrolled at the elementary school P.S. 116. The passion for the game was sparked at this school.
His mother allowed him to join the chess club. Her mother emailed the club, "He is interested in the chess program, which he will like to be participating in." The mother intimated to the club that she could not pay the fees because the family was living in a shelter. The boy however was able to participate in his first tournament because Russell Makofsky, who oversees the P.S. 116 chess program, waived the fees.
He entered that tournament with the lowest rating of 105. As it stands, his rating is 1587, and all signs point to further rising points. His style of play was aptly captured by the New York Times, "Tani has an aggressive style of play, and in the state tournament the coaches, watching from the sidelines, were shocked when he sacrificed a bishop for a lowly pawn. Alarmed, they fed the move into a computer and it agreed with Tani, recognizing that the gambit would improve his position several moves later."
Tani attends a free, 3-hour practice session in Harlem every Saturday to perfect and polish his game. He uses his father's laptop every evening for practice. His father works 2 jobs - one as a driver for Uber (using a car that he rents) and another as a licensed real estate salesman. His mother has passed a course to become a home health aide.
Tani's story has inspired and warmed the hearts of many people not only in the United States, or Nigeria, but in various parts of the world. It is clear evidence of the African excellence that prevails in the world, despite harsh hurdles.
There is a GoFundMe account set up to support the family - https://www.gofundme.com/just-tani
Header image credit - New York Times