8-Year-Old Nigerian Refugee Wins Chess Tournament, Family Gets a Home

A child of a Nigerian family seeking asylum is pursuing an education and excelling at chess as an outlet in the country he calls “home.” 

“I like deep thinking,” says Tanitoluma “Tani” Adewumi, who learned to play chess a year ago. His family came from Nigeria two years ago to escape persecution from terrorist group Boko Haram for being Christian.

The family has lived here since 2017, and is going through the asylum process. Their next hearing is in August.

Typically, a family like this, if they are allowed to stay in the U.S., experience racism and discrimination in the immigration enforcement system according to a 2016 report by the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. And studies show one-in-five (20%) of Black immigrants live below the poverty line.

Tani won first place for his age group at the New York State chess championship. Manhattan PS 116’s school chess coach Shawn Martinez saw how skilled he was, but learned the family’s financial struggles when he reached out to them to encourage their approval of Tani joining the school’s chess program.

“He smiled every time he did anything on the board or learned something new,” Martinez said. “I could just tell this game was for him.”

Russell Makofsky, who oversees the school’s program, waived the membership fees.

“One year to get to this level, to climb a mountain and be the best of the best, without family resources,” he said. “I’ve never seen it.”

Martinez started a Go Fund Me page to support the family, and it has garnered over $200,000 in five days. Tani’s family had been living in a homeless shelter for two years.

One of the people who donated, offered the family in an apartment, finally ending their journey in the shelter, where Tani had seven trophies next to his bed in the homeless shelter.

“I want to be the youngest grandmaster,” said Tani. He His mother, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, said, “I’m so proud of him.”

She took him to free regular three-hour practice sessions in Harlem. Tani’s dad lets him use a laptop to play chess online.

“He works very hard at his game,” Martinez said, and could be grandmaster in a year or two.

His global chess rating is now 1587 and rising fast. (By comparison, the world’s best player, Magnus Carlsen, stands at 2845.)

His work ethic comes from his parents: Tani’s dad rents a car that he uses to drive for Uber, and he has also become a licensed real estate salesman. Tani’s mom has passed a course to become a home health aide.

“Tani is rich beyond measure,” in the strength, love and support of his family, Makofsky said.

“He is so driven,” said Martinez. “He does 10 times more chess puzzles than the average kid. He just wants to be better.”

This is clearly a driven family from Nigeria that is positively contributing to the U.S., even though Trump once said Nigerians would never ”go back to their huts” in Africa.” ​ He also referred to African countries that were getting protections from a bipartisan immigration deal as  “s***hole” countries.

The number of African immigrants in the U.S. has roughly doubled every decade since 1970, according to the Pew Research Center.

Asylum for families like the Adewumis is a win-win.

Related Story: Lawsuit Filed to Fight Trump’s Rollback of Immigration Protections for Liberians

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