In 2017, the year Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the US, a child and his family of three fled their home in northern Nigeria fearing persecution by Boko Haram terrorists. Eventually they reached New York and settled in a homeless shelter. A little over a year later, the child, eight years old now, has been declared the winner of his age category at the New York State chess championship.
Tanitoluwa Adewumi’s story follows the kind of incredible arc that inspires — and provokes questions about the nature of global political power, its imbalances and the steely resilience of the human spirit that can override them. Forced out of home and into a homeless shelter in Manhattan, a pastor helped Adewumi get into the local elementary school. The school had a part-time chess teacher who taught his class how to play.
The story of his journey, though, might only remain a blip on the radar of a post-Trump world. POTUS has been vocal about the need to aggressively curb illegal immigration. In 2018, Trump tinkered with the refugee resettlement programme, portraying all refugees as a security threat, and cut resettlement admission numbers to a historic low — 22,491 refugees were resettled in the US in fiscal year 2018, roughly half the 45,000 cap. Resettlement agencies have been squeezed out of operations financially. In September, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced official plans to admit no more than 30,000 refugees in fiscal year 2019, in a bid to ostensibly improve national security.
It is hard to tether talent to circumstance. However, the stark reality is, in Trump’s America, opportunities for refugees like Adewumi, are on the slide. Adewumi is gearing up for the elementary national championship in May and his family’s asylum request hearing is in August. Talent might pull Adewumi through in the former. But without the privilege of a secure livelihood, the universality of talent holds true only in theory.