Vanita & Dyhemia conquer adversity

Both Vanita Young and Dyhemia Young (unrelated) have traveled the beaten path of life. Both have had tremendous challenges to face and both were raised outside of the traditional family setting. The two got to the Polgar tournament on different paths but finally crossed in Lubbock, Texas.

Vanita Young (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), Dyhemia Young (San Francisco, California) and Diamond Abdus-Shakoor (Columbus, Ohio) pose with Susan Polgar and Vanita Young’s coach, David Miller at Texas Tech University. Photo by FM Paul Truong.

  • Vanita was left to her grandparents after being abandoned by her mother and having lost her father to diabetes at 13. After having survived an assault, she found solace in chess after receiving encouragement from her 6th grade teacher. Since then, chess has been like a refuge. Upon winning a tournament for the right to compete in the Susan Polgar Invitational tournament, she nor her grandparents could not bear the $2000 expenses. Congressman Bob Brady encouraged local residents rally to her cause. She found her way to Lubbock, Texas with support from the Masterminds Chess Club.
  • Dyhemia has lived a rough and tumbled life of misfortune after being bounced around in the foster care system at a young age. Without any parents or guardians, things did not appear to be bright for the John O’Connell High student. Adisa Banjoko, who mentors Dyhemia, recommended her for a “wild card” slot at the Polgar Invitational, but could not find her. After a fierce search, the police department found her at a foster home and after a huge outpouring of support, including Will Smith and wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith. The money was raised and she was on her way to Lubbock, Texas. Even a black eye from one of her foster residents didn’t deter her spirits.

Texas Tech $40,000 scholarship winners

Susan Polgar with scholarship winners, Dyhemia Young, Cheryl Liu and Vanita Young. Sneha Chikkala also received the honor, but is not pictured. These scholarships are awarded to out-of-state high school upperclassman and were not based on tournament performance (report, standings). Photo by FM Paul Truong.

“Thank you. You’ve truly turned my life around.” ~ Vanita Young

Perhaps the most serendipitous fortune they received is that people came to help them in a time of need. Who really knew they would be awarded the scholarships? Both traveled tortuous paths, yet triumphant outcomes. Both also had similar expressions of gratitude.

Vanita, who got 4/6 knew this would be a good experience for her, but had no high expectations. It was not her first tournament, but perhaps a culmination of her total chess successes. Chess has provided her with more options that she may have had otherwise. There is no way she could have envisioned that chess would play such a pivotal role in her life.

Overcome with tears, Vanita remarked, “Thank you. You’ve truly turned my life around. This is a learning experience for me. Chess gets you far in life, and you’ve helped give me a scholarship so I don’t have to worry anymore. Just thank you.”

Dyhemia, playing in her very first tournament, won only one game, but what a big win it was for her! After she won her third game, she was overcome with emotion as if the sole victory represented triumph over all of her life’s hardships.

Dyhemia hopes to make good moves.

Dyhemia told local affiliate FOX 34, “I thank them and I’m appreciative of them for even believing in me and not giving up. I know it was hard for them to find me and they could have picked someone else to come here but they didn’t stop. So thank you.”

It is with great hope that the two girls will be able to study hard enough so they can meet the rigorous requirements of Texas Tech University. It will be the latest and greatest challenge they will face. There are many girls around the world who would sacrifice everything to obtain education in the U.S.

The awarding of these scholarships is only an opportunity, but L.P. Jacks once wrote “a pessimist see opportunity in every difficulty and an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” Let’s hope both will take advantage of this life-changing opportunity.

Congratulations Vanita and Dyhemia!


  1. All these girls, and the many thousands of others who play chess, are worthy of praise. Being from Philadelphia, I am naturally very proud of Vanita Young.

    Thank you for a wonderful story, Daaim. Thank you, Susan Polgar, for holding this tournament and giving these 4 special girls, Sneha Chikkala, Cheryl Liu, Dyhemia Young, and Vanita Young a wonderful boost to a fulfilling life.

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