The Profile Dossier: Tani Adewumi, the 12-year-old chess champion
"I never lose. I learn.”
Twelve-year-old Tanitoluwa (Tani) Adewumi wants to make history. And in some ways, he already has.
With dreams of becoming a chess grandmaster, Adewumi has taken on the world of chess in a determined and fierce way that mirror his playing style.
In 2019, Adewumi was living in a homeless shelter in New York City with his brother and parents, who had fled Nigeria just two years prior. The family left their home country fearing attacks by the terrorist group Boko Haram, which had targeted Christian residents.
When they arrived in New York as refugees, a local pastor helped them find lodging at a homeless shelter. Adewumi began attending the local elementary school when he saw a familiar game: chess.
His older brother introduced him to the game on a homemade board at their house in Nigeria with cutout paper pieces. It wasn’t until 2017 that Adewumi saw a real chessboard for the first time.
Though he wanted to join the school’s chess club, the $360 annual fee was too high for his parents to afford. So Adewumi’s mom messaged the club asking if they could waive the fee for her son while they lived in the shelter.
The school waived the fee, and the rest is history. Adewumi became good, then great, and then unstoppable. At age 8, he defeated 73 competitors to win the New York State chess championship in his age category.
After Nicholas Kristof wrote a short profile on Adewumi in The New York Times in 2019, the story caught fire. Readers helped start a GoFundMe for Adewumi and his family, and strangers from all over the world raised more than $250,000, along with a year of free housing. The Adewumis used part of the money to launch a foundation and help other homeless people and refugees.
Today, the Adewumi family lives in a home they purchased, and Tani is one norm shy of gaining an International Master rank. For a long time, Adewumi couldn’t travel abroad to international tournaments out of fear he wouldn’t be let back into the United States without proper documentation.
Just two months ago, he and his family breathed a sigh of relief. They were officially granted political asylum in the United States in December 2022. "We thank God for his mercy and the people of America for their kindness," said Adewumi’s dad, Kayode.
Here’s what we can learn from Adewumi about specializing at an early age, pursuing knowledge, and how the chess board can prepare you for life.
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