The vast opportunities and freedoms afforded to Americans is something many take for granted. However, when you are born into poverty in West Africa and are one of 28 children, you see the world quite differently.
"From an early age I knew education was my opportunity,” said Thione Niang, who recently spoke to students in Ashtabula Area City Schools while visiting his son, Elhaji, at Michigan Primary School. “Only through education, could I achieve my dreams.”
Niang told the students his story, beginning 13 years ago, when with $20 in his pocket, he arrived in New York City and eventually made his way to Cleveland.
While in Cleveland, he enrolled in college, majoring Public Relations and worked diligently to learn the English language. He is now fluent in English, Spanish, French and his native language, Wolof.
Throughout the years, he campaigned for local and state candidates. Now, Niang is a prominent international speaker, political consultant and activist.
During President Obama's first presidential race, he ran the Obama's Youth 40 and under campaign. Most recently, Niang was a key-note speaker at President Obama's 2012 Campaign Kick-Off Reception in Washington, D.C.
He has served as chairman of the Cuyahoga County Young Democrats, National Chair of the Young Democrats of America College Caucus and Chair of the International Affairs Committee for the Young Democrats of America.
He is now Founder and CEO of the TN Consulting Group, which aims to improve communications and relations among domestic and international governments and leading world organizations and the GIVE 1 Project.
The Give 1 project is a global non-profit organization whose aim is to engage young people as leaders in building and creating safe and healthy communities.
While Niang visited his son, Elhaji, he toured the Ashtabula Lakeside Elementary Campus. Principal Janie Carey felt the need to take Niang to Superior Intermediate where sixth-grade student Levi Dubach's presidential portraits were on display. Levi drew all of the presidents’ portraits with charcoal.
“The timing could not have been better,” Carey said. “I knew with Mr. Niang's background, the portraits would be something he would thoroughly enjoy.”
Niang found President Obama's portrait and asked to be photographed with it and the artist.
“He said he would share the picture with the President,” Carey said. “Mr. Niang repeatedly complimented our campus and thanked us for the wonderful education his son is receiving.”