Born to a Kenyan father and an American mother, Barack Obama has a multiracial heritage. He made history when he was elected as the 44th President of the United States of America, as he is the first African American to hold this post. Though, young and inexperienced as he has not spent much time in Washington, Barack Obama has worked for the last twenty years as a community organizer, a civil rights attorney, a constitutional law professor, a Sate Senator and then U.S. Senator.
Commonly called “Barry” throughout his childhood, he was born, Barack Hussein Obama II on August 4th 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii. His father, Barack Obama Sr. was of Luo ethnicity of Kenya. Hussein was their middle name as Barack Obama Sr.’s father had adopted Islam but originally they were Christians. Barack’s mother, Ann Dunham was an American brought up in Kansas State. His parents met during college at University of Hawaii at Manoa, where his father had come as a foreign student. They got married and Obama was born soon. When Barack Obama was two years old, his parents separated and later divorced in 1964. Obama and his mother then came to stay with his maternal grandparents in Manoa district.
Meanwhile his father received masters in Economics degree from Harvard after which he moved back to Kenya. Form his father’s other marriage, Barack has two half-sisters and five half brothers, all of them in Kenya. His father became Finance Minister in Kenya and eventually died in a road accident in the year 1982. Before his death, his father met Obama only once in 1971 when he visited Hawaii. So all he knows about his father is through his stories and photographs. Obama’s mother married an Indonesian student Lolo Soetoro while they were in Manoa. In 1967, Obama with his mother and step father moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. It was the time when, Suharto came to the power in Indonesia and all residents and students studying abroad were called back to their home land. Obama’s only half sister from his mother’s side, Maya Soetoro-Ng, was born in Jakarta. In Indonesia, Barack attended all local schools where the medium of language was Indonesian. Till his fourth grade he stayed in Indonesia; after which he moved with his grandparents in Honolulu, Hawaii. He stayed with him till his graduation.
Barack Obama has admitted that he struggled through his initial childhood years to find answers about his multicultural, multi racial heritage. As a very small child he found difficult to accept such vast differences between his mother and father’s skin color. In his own words he says that he had a middle class upbringing. During his teenage years, he even used cocaine, marijuana and alcohol to deal with his internal conflicts, something which he regretted later. Now, he thinks it was a big mistake and he was morally wrong. He never touched illegal drugs again after those years.
After high school, Barack moved to Los Angeles and studied at the Occidental College for two years; from there to Columbia College in New York. He majored in Political Science with specialization in International relations in 1983. In the meantime his father had died in Kenya in 1982. Barack Obama moved to Chicago after spending four years in New York and working at Business International Corporation and New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). He was hired as Community organizer by Developing Communities Project, a church based community organization. The organization wanted a young black man to help them collaborate with black churches in the south side. From 1985 to 1988, Obama worked there as Director of the organization. He helped blacks fight for their rights from the city government. He worked to improve the living conditions of poor neighborhoods which faced crimes unemployment. Working in a small organization taught him organizational skills. He was always good with words and was known for making speeches which people could emotionally connect to. He worked with Saul Alinsky whose method was “agitation” which meant getting people angry enough about their current state of things that they are compelled to take some step and do something. During his tenure at Developing Communities Project, the staff at this organization grew from 1 to 13 and so did their budget. Then, he worked as consultant and instructor for Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute. It was 1988 when we first traveled to Europe and then to Kenya for few weeks, where he met his fathers family for the first time.
Barack Obama felt that law was a medium which could facilitate activism and community organization. So in late 1988, he entered Harvard Law School. In his second year at college, in 1990, he was elected as the president of law review. This role required him to be editor- in-chief and supervisor of law review staff of about 80 editors. As he was the first black to be elected for this position, it was a widely reported and much publicized event. It had taken Obama long sessions of discussion with conservatives to support him. While still in law school in 1989, he worked as an associate at Sidley and Austin law firms. He met his future wife Michelle, also a lawyer, here. Newton Minnow was a managing partner here. Minnow, later introduced him to many of the Chicago’s top leaders. In the summer of 1990, he worked at Hopkins and Sutter and finally graduated from Harvard in 1991; after which he again moved back to Chicago where he practiced as a civil rights lawyer. His could have easily taken up a god job after Harvard but his values and mother’s teachings had taught him to do something for the society and the less privileged ones. The publicity that he garnered at Harvard, because of his election as first black president of Harvard law review, led him to an offer by University of Chicago law school to write book on racial relations. He was offered a fellowship from the university and an office from where he could write the book. In the meantime, after dating for few years and being engaged for a year, Barack married Michelle Robinson in 1992. Obama initially thought he would complete the book in one year but it took much longer as it was a memoir and he included bits about his personal life also. He traveled to Bali with his wife and wrote most of the part of the book there. In mid 1995, the manuscript was published. Book was named Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Few months after this publication his mother Ann, who had moved to Hawaii from Indonesia in 1994, died of ovarian and uterine cancer. He won the Grammy award for the audio version of this book.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama also taught Constitutional Law at University of Chicago Law School from 1992- 2004; first as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996 and then as Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004. Barack had also joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill and Galland law firm as civil rights attorney. He was an Associate in this law firm from 1993 to 1996 and then counsel from 1996 to 2004. Barack served on the board of Directors Woods Fund of Chicago, Joyce foundation form 1994 to 2002. In 1992, he became the founding member of board of director of Public Allies but resigned in 1993 and his wife joined it. All these years in Chicago, he served on board of directors of Chicago Annenberg Challenge, Chicago lawyer’s Committee for Civil Right under Law, the Centre for Neighborhood Technology and Lugenia Burns Hope Center.
In 1992 election he had organized largest voter registration drives, Project Vote, in history of Chicago from April to October 1992. He had with him a staff of ten and around seven hundred volunteers. They had the goal of registering around 150,000 African Americans in the state who were unregistered. It was one of the most successful voter registration drives one had ever seen. Barack’s work led him to run for Illinois State Senate. Eventually, he was elected in 1996 November, succeeding State Senator Alice Palmer, as Barack Obama was the only candidate left, after rest of the petitions were invalidated. He strongly worked for ethics reforms and criminal justice reform. In 1998, Barack with U.S. senator Paul Simon passed the toughest campaign finance law. It called for banning any personal use of the campaign money and any gifts received from the lobbyists. Before the law was passed, Illinois was among the worst states for campaign finance regulations.
He went on to serve three terms in the Illinois State Senate, from the year 1997 to 2004. Barack lost a primary run for U.S. House of Representatives to Bobby Rush in a very close fight in the year 2000. In the year 2003, he passed legislation to expand healthcare coverage to 70,000 children making Kidcare, state Children’s Health insurance program, permanent. The legislation also extended health insurance to uninsured parents, which added up to additional 84,000 parents. After he found there were 13 innocent death row inmates, Barrack saw to it that death penalty reforms were changed. Also, Illinois became the first state where videotaping an interrogation became mandatory. Even Law enforcement agreed that recording questioning would help the prosecution’s chances. As the Chairman of Illinois Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, Barack Obama unanimously led a legislation to be passed on racial profiling by the police, which means maintaining records of the race, age and gender of the drivers detained. For low income families, Obama created Illinois Earned Income tax credit which offered tax relief.
Barack Obama came into national limelight with an inspiring speech at July 2004 Democratic National Convention where he spoke against the Bush administration’s policies on Iraq war. His speech was the highlight of the convention and people who saw it knew that he was an emerging star. Barrack is a great orator, at par with Martin Luther King Jr. and often compared with John F Kennedy. People wait for hours to hear him speak. During his presidential campaign he drew huge crowd. He has a flair for consensus building and he loves addressing crowds. His wife Michelle Robinson is a Harvard Law School graduate. Michelle and Barack had their first daughter, Malia Ann in 1998 and second daughter Natasha, known as Sasha in 2001. His second book, Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream was out in October 2006 and he won the Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album for audio version of this book too. As a writer, Barack is very talented and is an introspective writer. Barack is a devoted basketball player and a Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bears fan. Though his father was brought up with Islamic faith, he was an atheist by choice, however, Barack follows Christianity.
By middle of 2002, he started thinking about running for U.S. Senate and formally, announced his candidacy in 2003 for U.S. Senate. On 2nd November 2004, he won the election by a great victory margin and was finally, elected to the US Senate, following which he resigned from Illinois State Senate. Barack Obama became the fifth African American senator in the history to do so. Till 2006, Obama held minority appointments like Foreign relations, Environment and Public Works, Veteran’s Affairs on Senate committees. He took additional major assignments of Committee of Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs at the start of 2007. While in U.S. Senate Foreign relations Committee, Barack visited Iraq to witness the war. In January he even introduced a legislation to end the Iraq war. He went against the conventional thinking of U.S. and had the courage to oppose the war. He also traveled to Russia and Africa. Right through his career he has spoken about his opposition to the Iraq war and to providing universal health care, which he focused on even in the presidential campaign. Obama made efforts to correct the disparity that existed in the state of Illinois where veterans were receiving less disability benefits as compared to other states. As a result more disability claims specialists were hired for the regional office in Chicago and claims of veterans were re-examined. Education was his top priority during his Senate years. He passed a legislation to carry summer education programs which emphasize mathematics and problem solving skills. He worked on to get black colleges eligible for grant money.
As a member of minority party in 109th congress, Barack created legislation to control conventional weapon and nuclear material smuggling. It became a law in 2007. Along with Senator Tom Coburn, Barack Obama passed a law to bring more transparency in the system. According to him, every American citizen has the right to know where his tax money goes and that information should be made available to them. He has worked on accessibility of renewable fuels. In 2007, Barack confronted both the parties and proposed ethics legislation which imposed subsidized corporate jet travel, restrictions on sponsored trips by lobbyists and disclosing lobbyists contributions became mandatory. All these became part of the final bill which became a law. He passed legislation where he demanded that gas stations be given tax credits who have installed E85 ethanol refueling pumps. He also sponsored a law for providing 40 million $ for commercialization of a hybrid car. In the 110th congress, he helped in creating legislation regarding lobbying and electoral fraud, nuclear terrorism and care for US military personnel returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. He passed a bill to help the families of servicemen who return injured from these countries and demanded that the families should get a job protection of 12 months for taking care of their loved ones. Obama sponsored a number of bills in U.S. Senate, 136 in total, of which two of them have become law. Additionally, he also co sponsored 619 bills in his tenure at U.S. Senate.
Obama declared his candidacy for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination in February 2007 at Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois. Of the large number of candidates who filed for nominations as presidential candidates, only two remained in the contest; Senator Hillary Clinton and Obama. On the 3rd of June 2008, Obama became the presumptive nominee, one who is assured of his nomination but not officially announced by the party. In August 2008, Barack Obama accepted the nomination and he was in race against the republican nominee, John McCain. On November 4, 2008, Obama won the presidential election by a big margin. He delivered his victory speech at Chicago’s Grant Park in front of thousands of supporters. There were, not only nationwide but, worldwide celebrations on his victory; even in his father’s home country, Kenya.
His stance on ethics, stressing on government transparency, education as his priority with his reform “No Child left behind” and providing affordable and accessible health care to all, has made him a favorite of many Americans and people have very high hopes from him.