Chess, Big Mac's and Music to Your Ears


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.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote last weekend that "Tani is a reminder of the principle that talent is universal, even if opportunity is not. As a Nigerian refugee who had learned chess only a bit more than a year earlier, [Tani] had just defeated kids from elite private schools to win the New York state chess championship for his age group. He lugged a trophy nearly as big as he is back to the homeless shelter."

Now, the story gets even better!

After Kristof’s column appeared a GoFundMe drive was created and raised more than $200,000 for Tani, his parents, and his brother. A half-dozen readers offered housing — in a couple of cases, palatial quarters. 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 best part of all is that one week after being homeless, with the world as their newly found oyster, the Adewumis chose to; 

  • Forgo the opulent homes in favor of a modest apartment they could afford.

  • Use the $200,000 to start a foundation helping other homeless refugees.

  • Take on a third job that was offered so as to be self reliant.

  • Return to PS116, their local public school.

Kristoph wrote, "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.”

In an era of school choice, with every option on the table and their child’s future at stake, they chose a public school. 

I don’t think I am incorrect in saying that Americans are a spoiled bunch. Myself included. We take things for granted that others in less fortunate places do not. We ignore the good and complain about the bad, when truly there is little to complain about. The Adewumi’s story is exceptional but not necessarily unique and serves as a reminder of the work our public schools do on a daily basis for the fifty one million students it serves.

We pick kids up and take them home.We feed and clothe and care for them before, during, and after school.We exercise their bodies and their minds.We provide structured, supervised, and safe social interaction.We expose them to art, music, poetry, and other forms of beauty.We provide therapy, counseling, and intervention when needed.

And it’s not just the WHAT we do, it is the HOW and SCALE that we do it on. To put it all into perspective, America’s public schools:

  • Help more people each day than Amazon.

  • Employ more people than the federal government.

  • Have a higher customer satisfaction rate than Mercedes, BMW, and 32 other auto-makers.

  • Teach a foreign language to a higher percentage of people than Rosetta Stone and DuoLingo.

  • Have a lower failure rate by far than other small-medium sized businesses.

  • Serve more Americans food each day than McDonald’s and Burger King COMBINED.

  • Have four times more locations than Walmart, Target, Krogers, and Costco COMBINED.

  • Transport more people each day that Uber, Lyft, and all airlines COMBINED.

  • Provide physical activity for more students than all sports COMBINED.

  • Watch more children before & after school than all child care companies COMBINED.

  • Provide music to more children than Apple Music and Spotify.

But most importantly, we provide a host of quality adults to serve as role models, sherpas, and servants on children’s pathways to adulthood. Yes, you are proud to be a music educator, but sometimes we forget to just be proud to be educators. We don’t just serve America’s future, we ensure the SUCCESS of it!

And that should be music to EVERYBODY’S EARS.

p.s. I am thinking of doing a question & answer blog next week. Send me your questions, doesn't have to be music related. I will attempt to answer anything!

p.s. Sound Leadership, is now back in stock and shipping. Thank you for your patience.