An eight-year-old Nigerian refugee, who was living in a New York homeless shelter for two years with his family, has won a state chess championship, sparking a viral campaign to get the family a place to live.
The New York Times reported that Tani Adewumi won the state chess title for his age group this month, even though he learned to play only about a year ago.
Tani and his family have lived in a New York City shelter since fleeing Nigeria in 2017. The family feared attacks by the militant group Boko Haram on Christians like themselves.
“I want to be the youngest grandmaster,” the boy told the Times.
Tani competed against 73 others in his age bracket, not losing a single match.
“I like how you think about it,” the Grade 3 student told CBS News. “It’s deep thinking, you have to understand a lot of stuff.”
Tani’s school chess coach Russell Makofsky said the boy has a special talent with his skillset.
“His intellect, his aptitude, his capacity to learn chess is off the charts,” Makofsky told CBS. “From not playing to beating the best of the best in one year is unheard of, all while living in a homeless shelter.”
Following the championship, Makofsky set up a GoFundMe, hoping to help get the family out of a shelter and into a home.
“Let’s all show our heart and help Tani’s family secure a home where he can continue on his journey,” reads the fundraiser.
Makofsky was hoping to raise $50,000 for the family, but the campaign went viral, with donations reaching nearly $170,000 in three days.
Appearing on NBC’s Today show, Tani said he was “surprised” he won the championship, noting that his older brother first tried to teach him the game of chess.
“I got into it when my brother, he started teaching me chess but he didn’t teach me the right rules,” Tani said. “Until coach came and taught me the right rules.”
The boy and the coaches thanked Tani’s supporters, while noting the family now has an apartment to call home thanks to an anonymous donor.
–with a file from the Associated Press
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