CEO of non-profit tells Elon University American Dream still alive

Thione Niang immigrated to U.S., achieved several dreams

APRIL 5, 2011

Marlena Chertock

Thione Niang spoke about achieving the American Dream at Elon University on April 5 in Whitley Auditorium. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

He wanted to save his mother from his father’s violence, to bring her to the U.S. Thione Niang came to the U.S. from Senegal in 2000 with a lot of hope.

Niang spoke about the American dream and if it’s still attainable on Tuesday, April 5 at 8 p.m. in Whitley Auditorium. The speech was hosted by the College Democrats.

For months he worked to get his visa and plane ticket. Once he arrived in Cleveland, Ohio, he was surprised that the community college he was going to attend didn’t have dorms, he said.

“They said I needed to find an apartment,” he said. “So I started looking for a job.”

Niang cleaned and waited tables.

The manager of the restaurant came over to him one day and said, “You’re too smart to be here. Maybe you can find a place to teach French,” Niang said.

Niang knew French since Senegal is a French colony.

He worked to achieve an interview with the president of a private school.

When the president was interviewing him, he kept looking down.

“He asked me, ‘Why are you looking down when I ask you questions?’” Niang said. “I said in my culture if someone’s older than me and talking to me, I can’t look them in the eye. It’s a sign of disrespect.”

The principal said in the U.S. a person can’t be trusted if he doesn’t look a person in the eye when talking, Niang said.

“Those are small little things that I have to learn because of different cultures,” he said.

He also had to learn English and keep up with American’s fast speaking, he said.

In a matter of 11 years Niang came to the U.S., went into politics, left politics and started a non-profit organization. He brought his mother to the U.S., worked on political campaigns and was a campaign manager for then Rep. Shirley Smith.

He started and is the CEO of the Give1Project, an organization that encourages impoverished youth to become community leaders.

He works to get young people involved in civic engagement in their countries. He wants to change the world and inspire children like Kofi Annan inspired him, he said.

Young people in Africa will have to build their own African dream, he said.

“They expect for U.S. or Europe to come do it for them, create it for them,” he said. “But what I tell them is you have to create a different history for your country. If you believe there’s a way your country should go, you have to do it. Power, no one will give it to you, you have to take it.”

Niang was inspired by Annan’s journey when his 7th grade teacher told him about Annan, he said. He never met Annan.

“Talk does a lot, sometimes,” he said.

He spoke of a sort of energy that people should possess to work at their dreams.

“When you move around things happen,” he said. “Don’t sit still. You have to keep moving over time. When you move you are going toward opportunities.”

He didn’t look for excuses because “all of it was excuses,” he said.

If people don’t have access, they should make access, he said.

Niang learned to believe in himself so others would believe in him, he said.

“I have to keep believing in myself and do hard work, that’s how I get things done,” he said.

Africans, foreigners and immigrants come to the U.S. to build a life, he said.

“When I’m coming here I come with this kind of hunger. I don’t look for nothing but opportunities. There’s no distraction for me.”

Immigrants don’t want to go to clubs, Niang said. They want to work 24 hours a day to make money to send home to their family.

People have a responsibility to take care of themselves but also think about what they can do to help others, he said.

He called opportunity and access a diamond. These are blessings that people shouldn’t take for granted, he said.

“We all share the world,” he said. “Until we bring those people along with us, we haven’t done our part.”


Niang discusses creating access to opportunities

Niang talks about helping the bigger community


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About Marlena Chertock

Marlena Chertock's first collection of poetry, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press. Her articles have appeared in The Washington Post, Marketplace, and WTOP. Her poems and fiction has appeared in The Deaf Poets Society, Moonsick Magazine, and Paper Darts.

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