8-Year-Old Homeless Refugee Uses Chess To Beat The Odds

Nigerian refugee Tanitoluwa Adewumi’s NY State chess championship was worth $180,000 and a new life for his family.

Identifying a talent, harnessing it, combining it with focus, purpose and then using it to rise out of predetermined, oppressive conditions is a familiar aspect of the Black experience.

Look no further than Tanitoluwa Adewumi, an 8-year-old Nigerian refugee who lives in a homeless shelter and placed first in the New York State Scholastic Championships chess tournament for his age bracket (K-3). 

“It’s unheard of for any kid, let alone one in a homeless shelter,” said Russell Makofsky, who oversees Manhattan’s P.S. 116 chess program, in a statement to USA TODAY.

In the process of training for the match, the young soul was able to captivate the masses and win the generosity of the people with his bravery, raw abilities, and resilience, raising over $180,000 for his family and chess expenses. According to recent reports, his family is now preparing to move into an apartment.

“I want to be the youngest grandmaster,” Adewumi– who goes by Tani– told The New York Times

Tanitoluwa has already lived a life full of challenges and dangers that a kid his age should never have to endure. His family fled war-torn northern Nigeria in 2017 fearing terror attacks on Christians from the group Boko Haram and moved to New York City over a year ago.

He and his family haven’t been able to secure housing so they’ve been living in a homeless shelter.  They have sought asylum and an immigration hearing has been scheduled for August, 2019.

Tanitoluwa did, however, figure out a way to create a better life for his family by discovering and excelling at the game of chess.

PS 116 School chess coach Shawn Martinez saw Tani ’s potential when the elementary school student flashed some incredible chess skills. He was putting the smackdown on kids with private chess tutors, just a few weeks after being introduced to the game.

Martinez introduced Tani and his parents to the school’s chess program. Then he waived the fees associated with playing on a competitive chess team. Other people were compelled to chip in. A fellow student gave Tanitoluwa a chess clock, Tani’s mother started taking him to free lessons in Harlem. His Dad relinquished his laptop to the cause so his prodigy son could spend hours refining his new craft by playing chess online.

Eventually, Makofsky started a GoFundMe campaign to help Tanitoluw’s family endure costs that can easily exceed thousands of dollars in travel, training and chess camp admission. Tani’s remarkable journey has produced seven trophies in addition to the financial cushion he’s providing for his struggling family.

Children of color are often forced to rationalize life’s hardships and deal with extreme socio-economic injustices from birth, but through all of the hardship, the Black mind remains a vessel oozing with ambition, hope, potential, and innovativeness.

Tanitoluwa Adewumi is a living example of how spectacular a child can become with a little support, encouragement and talent cultivation.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.