12-year-old Nigerian chess master granted asylum in the U.S.

The family says their next goal is to obtain U.S. citizenship.

A 12-year-old chess prodigy from Nigeria was granted asylum in America after racking up trophies while homeless in New York City.

The family of chess master Tanitoluwa “Tani” Adewumi was officially given safe haven in the U.S. after fleeing Nigeria in 2017, The Washington Post reports.

“It feels amazing, because it’s been such a long journey,” said Adewumi, whose family applied for asylum in 2019. “I’m just grateful that we’ve gotten this opportunity.”

The family reportedly received their asylum cards on Nov. 30, which will now allow Adewumi to travel and compete internationally.  

“It is, in effect, their license to remain in the United States. It allows them to travel internationally,” said Matthew Ingber, who worked alongside a pro bono legal team that handled the family’s asylum case.

“It’s their path to the freedom that they wanted,” he said.

As reported previously by theGrio, Adewumi and his family fled northern Nigeria about five years ago due to fear of the extremist group Boko Haram. They were living in a homeless shelter in New York City when Adewumi joined a chess club at his local public school.

Adewumi rose to fame after setting a record in the state championships at 8 years old when he defeated 73 of the best players in his age group. At the time, the boy and his family were still living in a Manhattan-based homeless shelter. 

He became the 28th-youngest national master in the US Chess Federation at age 10, according to CBS News. In 2019, Adewumi made headlines at age 11 while still homeless and on track to becoming the youngest-ever chess grandmaster, the highest title a player can attain after becoming a national master. 

In 2021, Adewumi won the under-12 division of the North American Youth Chess Championship and became an International Chess Federation (FIDE) master.

The family started a GoFundMe page in 2019 to raise funds to support Adewumi’s chess journey as well as cover their living expenses. The campaign quickly surpassed the original goal of $50,000. After a New York Times story about the family went viral, they were able to move into a two-bedroom apartment three years ago, theGrio reported.

“Our lives have really improved and things have changed tremendously,” the child’s father, Kayode Adewumi, stated on the fundraiser page.  

The GoFundMe campaign remains active and currently collects money for the Tanitoluwa Adewumi Foundation, which supports “talented but less privileged children” and “homeless children,” per the campaign. The page has garnered more than $256,000. 

Now that the family is granted asylum in the U.S., their next goal is to obtain U.S. citizenship, the boy’s father, Kayode Adewumi, told CBS News

“We thank God for his mercy and the people of America for their kindness,” the father told the news outlet in a text message. 

“This is not just a story about 8-year-old Tani,” attorney Christopher Mikesh, who worked on the asylum case, told The Washington Post. “It’s also a story about a family who came to the United States with very little and did everything they possibly could to make a life for themselves here.”

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