New York(AP): A homeless Nigerian refugee whose family is seeking asylum in the U.S. has been crowned a chess champion at just eight years old.
Tanitoluwa Adewumi, who goes by Tani, is riding high after becoming the newly-crowned chess champion for players in kindergarten through to Grade 3 at the New York State Chess Championships.
He went undefeated at the competition two weekends ago, beating out children from some of the country’s most elite private schools.
Tani’s family members, who are waiting for their asylum application to be accepted, feel “tremendous,” his chess teacher Russell Makofsky, told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
The boy began playing chess shortly after arriving in the U.S. in 2017, while he was enrolled in school along with his older brother. Tani’s elementary school, P.S. 116, has a part-time chess teacher who taught his class how to play.
Makofsky, who oversees the school’s chess program, waived the club fees for the budding young chess genius. But Tani’s success happened despite a tough upbringing.
His family fled northern Nigeria due to fears over Boko Haram terrorizing Christians in the region, Tani’s father Kayode Adewumi told The New York Times.
Tani told reporter Nicholas Kristof he now wanted to become “the youngest grandmaster.” And with his trajectory, it’s certainly possible.
Besides being a state chess champion, he’s already won seven trophies in several different competitions.
Makofsky added Tani’s family is eager to “build a life in America … [and] future in America.” For now, Tani’s father helps pay the bills working as an Uber driver but recently earned his real estate license.
After Tani’s win, Makofsky started a GoFundMe page with the goal to raise enough money so Tani’s family can afford to live outside of a homeless shelter.
“When he won that tournament — and I found out that he was living in a homeless shelter — it didn’t feel right,” he said. So far, people have donated US$98,000, shattering his initial goal of US$50,000.
On the GoFundMe page, Makofsky wrote: “Tani is all heart,” adding his family wants him to just keep getting better.
“I’m overwhelmed. Tani’s overwhelmed. The family’s overwhelmed,” he said. “[Their story has] touched the social consciousness of the world.”