Early life and career of Barack Obama


Barack Hussein Obama is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Obama is a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, where he was the president of the Harvard Law Review. He was a community organizer in Chicago before earning his law degree. He worked as a civil rights attorney in Chicago and taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School from 1992 to 2004. He served three terms representing the 13th district in the Illinois Senate from 1997 to 2004.

Following an unsuccessful bid against the Democratic incumbent for a seat in the United States House of Representatives in 2000, Obama ran for United States Senate in 2004. Several events brought him to national attention during the campaign, including his victory in the March 2004 Democratic primary and his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. He won election to the U.S. Senate in Illinois in November 2004. His presidential campaign began in February 2007, and after a close campaign in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries against Hillary Rodham Clinton, he won his party’s nomination. In the 2008 presidential election, he defeated Republican nominee John McCain, and was inaugurated as president on January 20, 2009. In October 2009, Obama was named the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

As president, Obama signed economic stimulus legislation in the form of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009 and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act in December 2010. Other domestic policy initiatives include the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act. In foreign policy, he gradually withdrew combat troops from Iraq, increased troop levels in Afghanistan, signed the New START arms control treaty with Russia, ordered enforcement of the United Nations-sanctioned no-fly zone over Libya, and issued a direct order to a small group of American military forces to kill al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. In April 2011, Obama declared his intention to seek re-election in the 2012 presidential election.

Early life and career

Obama was born on August 4, 1961, at Kapiʻolani Maternity & Gynecological Hospital (now called Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women and Children) in Honolulu, Hawaii, and is the first President to have been born in Hawaii. His mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was born in Wichita, Kansas and was of mostly English descent. His father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a Luo from Nyang’oma Kogelo, Nyanza Province, Kenya. Obama’s parents met in 1960 in a Russian language class at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where his father was a foreign student on scholarship.The couple married on February 2, 1961,separated when Obama Sr. went to Harvard University on scholarship, and divorced in 1964. Obama Sr. remarried and returned to Kenya, visiting Barack in Hawaii only once, in 1971. He died in an automobile accident in 1982.

After her divorce, Dunham married Indonesian student Lolo Soetoro, who was attending college in Hawaii. When Suharto, a military leader in Soetoro’s home country, came to power in 1967, all Indonesian students studying abroad were recalled, and the family moved to the Menteng neighborhood of Jakarta. From ages six to ten, Obama attended local schools in Jakarta, including Besuki Public School and St. Francis of Assisi School.

In 1971, Obama returned to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Armour Dunham, and attended Punahou School, a private college preparatory school, from the fifth grade until his graduation from high school in 1979. Obama’s mother returned to Hawaii in 1972, remaining there until 1977 when she went back to Indonesia to work as an anthropological field worker. She finally returned to Hawaii in 1994 and lived there for one year, before dying of ovarian cancer.

Of his early childhood, Obama recalled, “That my father looked nothing like the people around me—that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk—barely registered in my mind.” He described his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage. Reflecting later on his formative years in Honolulu, Obama wrote: “The opportunity that Hawaii offered—to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect—became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.” Obama has also written and talked about using alcohol, marijuana and cocaine during his teenage years to “push questions of who I was out of my mind.” At the 2008 Civil Forum on the Presidency, Obama identified his high-school drug use as a great moral failure.

Following high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to attend Occidental College. In February 1981, he made his first public speech, calling for Occidental’s disinvestment from South Africa due to its policy of apartheid. In mid-1981, Obama traveled to Indonesia to visit his mother and sister Maya, and visited the families of college friends in Pakistan and India for three weeks.

Later in 1981, he transferred to Columbia University in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialty in international relations and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1983. He worked for a year at the Business International Corporation, then at the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Chicago community organizer and Harvard Law School

Two years after graduating, Obama was hired in Chicago as director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Greater Roseland (Roseland, West Pullman and Riverdale) on Chicago’s far South Side. He worked there as a community organizer from June 1985 to May 1988. During his three years as the DCP’s director, its staff grew from one to thirteen. He helped set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants’ rights organization in Altgeld Gardens. Obama also worked as a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute. In mid-1988, he traveled for the first time in Europe for three weeks and then for five weeks in Kenya, where he met many of his paternal relatives for the first time. He returned in August 2006 for a visit to his father’s birthplace, a village near Kisumu in rural western Kenya.

In late 1988, Obama entered Harvard Law School. He was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year, and president of the journal in his second year. During his summers, he returned to Chicago, where he worked as a summer associate at the law firms of Sidley Austin in 1989 and Hopkins & Sutter in 1990. After graduating with a Juris Doctor magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991, he returned to Chicago. Obama’s election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review gained national media attention and led to a publishing contract and advance for a book about race relations, which evolved into a personal memoir. The manuscript was published in mid-1995 as Dreams from My Father.

University of Chicago Law School and civil rights attorney

In 1991, Obama accepted a two-year position as Visiting Law and Government Fellow at the University of Chicago Law School to work on his first book.

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