An eight-year-old boy who lives in a homeless shelter in New York City has been crowned the state's chess champion for his age group.
Tanitoluwa Adewumi won the state tournament for his group, from kindergarten through third grade, last weekend. The boy and his family fled their home in Nigeria in 2017 and moved to the U.S. to escape Boko Haram, a terrorist group responsible for horrendous attacks against Africans. The Adewumi family, being devout Christians, feared for their lives. They have been living in a homeless shelter ever since while their application for asylum pends.
Tani, as he is known to family and friends, plays chess at the elementary school he attends and practices every night in the shelter. His father Kayode is an Uber driver and a real estate broker. Tani and his siblings became enrolled in local elementary schools not long after they arrived and he discovered the chess club. School chess coach Shawn Martinez saw Tani's potential after observing him excel in the game a few weeks after first learning it early last year.
He reached out to the boy's family about joining the school's chess program and learned they were unable to pay costs associated with membership. The club decided to wave Tanitoluwa's fees, which can easily add up to thousands of dollars with travel and chess camp admissions. When Tani's mother Oluwatoyin initially emailed them to admit they could not afford to pay the required fees, she added that her son was keen to participate.
Tani also attends a free, three-hour practice session in Harlem every Saturday to polish his skills. At night, he uses his father's laptop to practice. His dream is to become the youngest grandmaster "ever", he told The New York Times.
Russ Makofsy, who oversees Manhattan's P.S. 116 chess program, has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help the boy's family, and they have now more than doubled their $50,000 goal. He said it was astonishing how much Tani had improved in just a year.
“It’s unheard of for any kid, let alone one in a homeless shelter,” he told USA TODAY. "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."