Barack Obama’s multi-ethnic and culturally diverse background enshrines him as a symbol of America in the 21st century, regardless of any objective critiques of his actual political progress. His “rags to riches” story is both uniquely American and colorfully unprecedented in the annals of U.S. presidential history.
“Barry,” as he was often called, was born to a white American mother, Ann Dunham, and a black Kenyan father, Barack Obama Sr., both young college students at the University of Hawaii. After Barack Sr. left the warm, sunny islands for the coolly intellectual confines of Harvard University, later returning to Kenya where he remained as a government economist, Ann and her son remained in Hawaii, where she later remarried, this time to an Indonesian oil manager before they all moved to Jakarta, when Barry was only six. Obama later recalled his youth in Indonesia a combination of natural, tropical joy contrasted with the pain of extreme poverty in a third world nation. While he kept in touch with his natural father, a world traveler at this point, he saw him only once during his upbringing, when Barack was ten.
He later returned to Hawaii, where his grandparents raised him following Ann’s untimely death from cancer. His grandfather worked both as a furniture salesman and an insurance agent, while his grandmother worked was a employed in a bank. They all lived in a small apartment, all they could afford, but young Obama studied hard and got into Punahou School, Hawaii’s top prep academy.
Following graduation from Punahou, Obama moved stateside where he attended Columbia University, then later, he moved to the Midwest and became a church-based community organizer, earning a street smart savvy of social politics before continuing his formal education back East. In 1990 became the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review. Back in Chicago, he turned down a prestigious judicial clerkship, instead opting to represent victims of housing and employment, along with teaching at the University of Chicago Law School, where he met and married fellow civil rights activist and lawyer Michelle Robinson.
Ultimately, he decided to enter the political arena, testing his talents as both champion of the poor and populist orator. In 2004 Obama was elected the Democratic Senator from Illinois, and soon thereafter he earned a national reputation with an inspirational and notably non-partisan keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. In 2008 he ran for President, and, despite a barrage of negativity, some related to his race, he became the nation’s first president of African descent.