Nicholas Kristof has an update on the 8-year-old chess whiz Our Chess Champion Has a Home. The 8-year-old refugee who last week was thrilled to have a trophy suddenly has so much more. (h/t Sherry Moreau)
Tanitoluwa Adewumi, age 8, skidded around the empty apartment, laughing excitedly, then leapt onto his dad’s back. “I have a home!” he said in wonderment. “I have a home!”
A week ago, the boy was homeless, studying chess moves while lying on the floor of a shelter in Manhattan. Now Tani, as he is known, has a home, a six-figure bank account, scholarship offers from three elite private schools and an invitation to meet President Bill Clinton.
“I think I am still dreaming,” said Tani’s dad, Kayode Adewumi. “I hope I don’t wake up.”
After my column about this hard-working family, a GoFundMe drive raised more than $200,000 for Tani, his parents and his brother. A half-dozen readers offered housing … Immigration lawyers offered pro bono assistance to the Adewumis, who are in the country legally and seeking asylum. Three film companies are vying to make movies about Tani.
The family settled on one of the more modest and practical housing offers: An anonymous donor paid a year’s rent on a two-bedroom apartment near Tani’s current school. The apartment is clean, comfortable and freshly painted, without being luxurious …
The Adewumis have decided that they will not spend a cent of the $200,000 GoFundMe money on themselves. They will take out a 10 percent tithe and donate it to their church, which helped them while they were homeless, and the rest will be channeled through a new Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation to help African immigrants who are struggling in the United States the way they were a week ago.
I asked them how they could turn down every penny of such a huge sum. Didn’t they want a celebration dinner? New iPhones? A vacation?
“I’m a hardworking guy,” Mr. Adewumi explained. He has two jobs: He drives for Uber with a rented car and sells real estate through Brick & Mortar. Someone has now offered him a free car so that he can keep more of the money he makes driving, and Tani’s mom was just offered a job as a health care aide at a hospital.
I asked Tani if he was O.K. with seeing the $200,000 disappear. He shrugged. “I want to help other kids,” he said. “I don’t mind.”
The family was tempted by the offers of full scholarships at top private schools. But Tani and his parents decided that while he might accept such a scholarship for middle school, he would be loyal and stick with the public elementary school, P.S. 116, that taught him chess and waived his fees for the chess club.
“This school showed confidence in Tanitoluwa,” his mom, Oluwatoyin Adewumi, told the P.S. 116 principal, Jane Hsu. “So we return the confidence.” And then, overcome with emotion, the mom and the principal hugged.
There’s a risk that a triumph like this leaves the impression that charity is the solution rather than a way to fill gaps: Fundamentally we need comprehensive systems in place to support needy kids. We would never build a bridge or subway with volunteers and donations, so why entrust an even more urgent cause — homeless children — to charity?
Tani thrived because everything fell into place: a good school, a dedicated chess teacher and devoted parents committed to taking their son to every chess practice. The challenge is to replicate that supportive environment for all the other Tanis out there with public services and private philanthropy alike.
Now pause and reflect on your own life and the every-things that, for you, “fell into place”. Like me, you will find that exercise informative and humbling.