As you get older, it can be frustrating to watch people younger than you succeed where you have failed. To watch 20-year-olds dominate the NBA and the NFL, and to hear about the 15-year-old who created a multi-million dollar app. You’ve played basketball, you have a phone. Why didn’t you do those things?
Sometimes, though, the kids are so young, and the circumstances so different from yours, you can’t help but shake your head in awe. These are prodigies who were clearly born with this special skill, and you have to marvel at what they’re able to accomplish so quickly. Like the 8-year-old kid making waves in the chess world.
Did I mention he’s not only 8, but also homeless, and an immigrant?
Tanitoluwa Adewumi has not even reached double-digits, has barely been playing chess for a year and doesn’t have a home for the trophies he’s been racking up over the past few months. But no matter. He still took the New York state chess title for his age group (kindergarten through third grade). The Nigerian immigrant went undefeated at the tournament, which featured 74 players.
His family fleed Nigeria to escape Boko Haram and had been living at a homeless shelter in Manhattan. “I don’t want to lose any loved ones,” his father, Kayode Adewumi, told the New York Times.
Tani was introduced to the game by the part-time chess teacher at PS 116, where he enrolled when the family arrived in NYC. He quickly asked his mom if he could join the school’s chess team, run by Russell Makofsky, which waved the fees so the young boy could participate. At his first tournament, his ranking was 105. A year later, it’s at 1587 and climbing.
“He is so driven,” the chess teacher, Shawn Martinez, says. “He does 10 times more chess puzzles than the average kid. He just wants to be better.” Like his father, who works two jobs as the family continues to get a foothold in this country, Tani is motivated. All he needs is an opportunity.
Thanks to chess, he’s getting it. There is a GoFundMe set up to raise money for Tani and his family, and his school even recently held a pep rally for the prodigy. “It’s an inspiring example of how life’s challenges do not define a person,” said P.S. 116’s principal said.
“One year to get to this level, to climb a mountain and be the best of the best, without family resources,” Makofsky told The New York Times. “I’ve never seen it.”
Maybe we should have been practicing chess instead of that crossover dribble.