His Family Fled Nigeria In 2017. Now He’s A Chess Champion In NYC With A $200K GoFundMe Campaign

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Written by Dana Sanchez
Chess Champion
Just Tani | Image: Gofundme

Fearing religious persecution from Boko Haram terrorists, Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi and his family immigrated in 2017 to the U.S. from Nigeria.

Refugees who wanted to practice Christianity, Tani and his mom, dad and brother have been living in a homeless shelter in New York City. That’s where Tani kept the seven trophies that he won playing chess. It’s also where he would lie on the floor for hours at night, practicing chess.

Tani’s story makes people so happy that 3,687 people have donated $200,000-plus in the first five days of his GoFundMe campaign, far exceeding the $50,000 goal.


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At age 8, Tani has only been playing chess for a year, and the homeless third grader just won his category at the New York State chess championship, the New York Times reported.

Tani learned to play chess from a part-time chess teacher at P.S. 116, the local elementary school he attends. His mom lets him miss church when necessary to attend tournaments, and takes him to free three-hour practice sessions in Harlem on Saturdays. His dad, who rents a car to drive for Uber, lets Tani use his laptop to practice. Dad has also become a licensed real estate salesman.

“Meeting them, it’s easy to see where Tani’s scrappy diligence came from,” wrote New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof.

The school recently held a pep rally to celebrate Tani’s victory. “It’s an inspiring example of how life’s challenges do not define a person,” said Jane Hsu, the principal of P.S. 116.

“Tani is a reminder that refugees enrich this nation — and that talent is universal, even if opportunity is not,” Kristof wrote. “Back in Nigeria, his parents say, his brilliance at chess would never have had an outlet.”

Update: Since the New York Times story broke, the Adewumi family is no longer homeless, according to News Channel 21 KTVZ. Someone “gifted” them an apartment, according to Russell Makofsky, who is in charge of the chess program at P.S. 116.

In addition to financial support, the family has also had offers of cars and legal services.