Homeless 8-y-o Christian refugee who fled Boko Haram wins NY chess championship, donations pour in

Tanitoluwa Adewumi
Christian refugee, Tanitoluwa Adewumi, 8, is New York State's primary chess champion. |

Thousands of dollars in donations are now pouring in to help find a home for a homeless 8-year-old Christian refugee who fled persecution with his family from Islamist sect Boko Haram in Nigeria, after he beat wealthier competitors to win New York State’s primary chess championship.

The boy, Tanitoluwa Adewumi, who is affectionately called Tani, is currently living with his family in a homeless shelter in Manhattan and only started playing chess just over a year ago, according to an op-ed by The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof.

Tani who is the new state chess king of the kindergarten through third grade level was undefeated at the state tournament earlier this month where he outsmarted children from “elite private schools with private chess tutors,” Kristof said. But he has a bigger ambition.

“I want to be the youngest grandmaster,” he said.

The young refugee’s family fled Nigeria in 2017 because of the ongoing terrorist attacks on Christians.

“Such violence often results in the loss of life and physical injury, as well as loss of property. As a result of the violence, Christians are also dispossessed of their land and means of livelihood. Christians in northern Nigeria, especially in the Sharia states, face discrimination and exclusion as second-class citizens. Christians with a Muslim background also face rejection from their own families and pressure to give up Christianity,” says Open Doors USA, an organization that helps persecuted Christians in 60 countries.

“I don’t want to lose any loved ones,” Tani’s father, Kayode Adewumi, told Kristof.

The family’s asylum request in the U.S. is still pending with a hearing scheduled for August.

In 2018, more than 6,000 Christians had been killed or maimed by Islamist terrorists affiliated either with Boko Haram group or the Fulani tribesmen, whose anti-Christian terrorism remains unchecked by Nigeria’s government.

Tani, his older brother, and his parents moved to New York City more than a year ago, according to Kristof, and a pastor directed them to a homeless shelter. He soon started attending P.S. 116 where a part-time chess teacher taught him how to play chess. With the blessing of his mother, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, he joined the chess club.

When he took part in his first chess tournament a year ago, Russell Makofsky, who oversees the P.S. 116 chess program, said Tani had the lowest rating of any participant, 105.

His rise since then, however, has been meteoric. His rating is now 1587 and continues to improve. To understand how well Tani is doing, Kristof noted that the world’s best player, Magnus Carlsen, has a rating of 2845.

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

Hsu explained that even though his family currently does not have a home, his parents have worked hard to ensure that he succeeds. His father currently works two jobs while his mother recently completed a course to become a home health aide.

Two days ago, Makofsky launched a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money so Tani’s family can find a home. As of Monday morning, nearly 1,400 people had donated almost $100,000 and counting.

“I welcome this family and join them in wanting to help grow this boy’s talent. The family is inspiring and strong and an example of how welcoming immigrants has built this nation and added immeasurable good to our communities,” wrote one donor on the campaign's site.

Tani also found support from actress Olivia Wilde, who tweeted the GoFundMe campaign on Saturday, noting: “I just donated to Tani’s gofundme campaign to help his family find a home. Please join me!”

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