Tani Adewumi is an inspiration. When he was eight years old, he won the New York State Chess Championship after only a year of playing the game. His story shocked the elite world of chess players—and beyond—for more than just his game play, though. His family had been threatened by Boko Haram, a terrorist group in West Africa, so they fled Nigeria for America, seeking religious asylum. While his parents struggled to keep the family afloat, working as a dishwasher and Uber driver and cleaner, Tani viewed their move to a homeless shelter in New York City as a fresh start. His brother had showed him a version of chess years ago, and when he played the real thing, he played for hours every night until he mastered the game.
When he learned about the chess club at his New York City public school, he was ecstatic. But the $300-ish fee to join the club was too much for his refugee family. Luckily, a teacher waived his fee, and he was able to play and conquer the world of chess.
In My Name is Tani … And I Believe in Miracles, Tani and his parents share his inspiring story of miracles and chess—and some pretty good life lessons. Here are just a few of those important life lessons Tani will teach you in his book.
1. Never ask for a trophy.
After one of his chess tournaments, Tani got 11th place and was feeling left out when only the top 10 players received trophies. His coach noticed him looking downtrodden, and when Tani explained why, his coach gave him a fake trophy and told him to never ask for one—always earn a trophy. The same goes for all accolades and praise. You must earn it.
2. Let sorry always be in your mouth.
This one is one of Tani’s mother’s common sayings—she says it numerous times throughout the memoir—and it’s stayed in my head ever since I read it. Let sorry always be in your mouth. Always be ready to apologize when you’ve hurt someone, whether you intended to or not. It’s a strength to have compassion for others, and Tani’s mother impresses that upon her children as often as she can.
3. It’s hard to have a bad day when you wake up laughing.
One stressful day for the Adewumi family began when Tani’s father was snoring so loudly that it woke the whole family, and they all busted out laughing. Tani has this line about that moment, and it’s the perfect life lesson from a child. Your mood when you wake up can color the mood for your whole day, so wake up in good spirits whenever you can. If it’s with laughter, even better!
4. Your struggles will be multiplied if you give yourself over to stress.
Tani’s father has many things to be stressed about. It was his print shop in Nigeria that men from Boko Haram threatened. It was his decision to move his family across the world to a new place. And it was his responsibility to work odd jobs once they landed in New York City so he could keep his family safe. But he remained calm and philosophical about his struggles, and this line is something I’m going to be carrying with me for a long time. It’s so profound and useful for all levels of struggle and stress.
5. We should always fight to become better every day.
One of Tani’s chess coaches had a seemingly endless supply of inspirational lines and life lessons to dole out. This one, while in context was meant to be related to the game of chess, works as a general life lesson for all of us. Always fight for the good, and always fight to be better. Every day is a new day to be better.
But these are only a few of the life lessons Tani will teach you in his inspirational memoir. Be sure to get yourself a copy to read this amazing story about life, chess, and miracles.
Ashley Holstrom is a book person, designing them and writing about them for Book Riot. She lives near Chicago with her cat named after Hemingway and her bookshelves organized by color.