Childhood & Family
Barack Obama was born on 4th August 1961, at Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was born to Stanley Ann Durham and Barack Obama Senior. Stanley was a European American from Kansas and Barack Sr. a Luo from Kenya. They met in 1960 in a Russian Language Class on Hawaii, where Barack Sr. was a foreign student. They later married in 1961, but split when Barack Jr. was two. They divorced in 1964. Barack Sr. returned to Kenya and only saw his son once more before he died in a car crash in 1982.
Stanley and Barack later married an Indonesian student called Lolo Soetoro. The family moved to Indonesia when a military leader, called Suharto, came to power in 1967. Barack attended Besuki Public School and St. Francis of Assisi School in Jakarta until he was ten. He returned to Honolulu, living with his mutual grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Armour Dunham. He attended Punahou School until he graduated in 1979. Stanley returned from Indonesia in 1972 for 5years, before returning to become an anthropological field worker. She died of ovarian cancer in 1995.
When he was young, Obama barely considered the fact that his father’s racial difference to those aroundhim was significant to others. He recalled:
"That my father looked nothing like the people around me — that he was black as pitch, mymother white as milk — barely registered in my mind."
During his teenage years, Obama had to deal with the social problems that arose during the racial hatred in America during the 60s and 70s. In his 1995 memoirs, he described how he used alcohol, marijuana and cocaine to “push questions of who I was from my mind.” He also identified this use of drugs as his greatest moral failure. After graduating, Obama moved to Los Angeles to study at Occidental College, before transferring to Columbia University in New York. There he majored political science with a specialization in international relations. He graduated with a B.A. in 1983. Afterwards, he worked for the Business International Corporation for one year, then moving on to New York Public Interest Research Group.
Obama’s wife, Michelle Obama (nee Robinson) was born on 17th January 1964 and is a lawyer. She was also a University of Chicago Hospital Vice-President. They have two daughters, Malia Ann, born in 1998 and Natasha (known as Sasha), born in 2001. Sasha is the youngest person to live in the White House since John F. Kennedy Jr. Before his inauguration, Obama published a letter in Parade magazine in which he describes what he wants for his children and every child in America:
"…to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world."
Whilst in Chicago, the children kept an active lifestyle, taking part in many extra-curricular activities. Malia takes part in soccer, dance and drama whilst Sasha does tap and gymnastics. Both also do tennis and piano. In July, the family gave an interview with Access Hollywood, but Obama later said that he regretted allowing the children to take part. They are currently attending private Sidwell Friends School in Washington, where Chelsea Clinton, Tricia Nixon Cox, Archibald Roosevelt have attended, along with Vice President Joe Biden’s grandchildren.
Michelle’s mother, Marian Shields Robinson (nee Marian Shields) was born in July 1937 and is now widowed. She married Michelle’s father, Fraser Robinson, in 1960. Marian looked after her grandchildren whilst Obama and Michelle were campaigning and plans to move into the White House as part of the First Family to do the same. She will be the first live-in Grandmother since Eisenhower. She has been dubbed by some media as the ‘First Granny’.
Obama moved to Chicago after four years in New York. There he was hired as a Community Organizer. Community organizers work with others living nearby, brought together by an organization to act on a common interest. This role can sometimes overlap with that of social planners. Community organizers normally accept that conflict and social struggle will occur when attempting to bring about social change. A core goal is to create durable power for an organization which can represent the community and influence key decision-makers on behalf of the community. Obama said this Ryan Lizza, a writer for The New Republic in 2007.
"What really inspired me was the civil rights movement. And if you asked me who my role model was at that time, it would probably be Bob Moses, the famous SNCC organizer. … Those were the folks I was really inspired by—the John Lewises, the Bob Moseses, the Fannie Lou Hames, the Ella Bakers,"
Before Obama arrived at the Community Organization, it comprised of three white men, two of them being Jewish. They only worked with Catholic Parishes up to the point Obama arrived. Black pastors looked upon them with suspicion and sometimes as outsiders. They wanted a young black man to ally with churches in the South Side. Obama worked there as the director of Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization, from 1985 until 1988. Obama joined the Trinity United Church of Christ during his stay there.
During his three years there, the staff grew from 1 to 13 and the budget from $70thousand to $400thousand. He helped to set up a job training program, college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants' rights organization. Obama was modest though, saying in a 2007 interview:
"For the most part I would say I wasn’t wildly successful," Obama said in a 2007 interview. "The victories that we achieved were extraordinarily modest: you know, getting a job-training site set up or getting an after-school program for young people put in place."
In 1988, Obama went to Harvard Law School and said this in an interview with Ebony in 1990:
"The idea was not only to learn how to hope and dream about different possibilities, but to know how the tax structure affects what kind of housing gets built where."
At the end of his first year, Obama became an editor of the Harvard Law Review, based on grades and a writing competition. He was later elected the president of the Review; using techniques learnt when he was a community organizer to gain the trust of the board. Obama graduated in 1991 and returned to Chicago, where he settled and married.
Obama has been a State Legislator in Illinois and a US Senator before running for President in 2008. He was elected into the Illinois senate in 1996, succeeding State Senator Alice Palmer from Illinois’ 13th District. Once elected, Obama gained bipartisan support and reformed ethics and health care laws. He also sponsored an increase in tax-credit for low income workers and childcare subsidies, and negotiated welfare reform.
In 1998, Obama was re-elected, defeating Republican Yesse Yehudah and was again re-elected in 2002. In 2000, he lost a Democratic primary run for US House of Representatives to Bobby Rush. In 2003, he became chairman of Illinois Senate's Health and Human Services Committee, helping Democrats regain a foothold after a decade of republican supremacy. He led many bids to monitor racial profiling by making the police detail the race of drivers that were detained. He also stopped the recording of homicidal interrogations. He resigned from the position in November 2004, following his election to the US Senate.
Obama decided to run for the US Senate in mid 2004, and after the announcement of the two previous contenders not running that year, fifteen candidates stepped forward. Obama fought them off, winning the March primaries with 52% of the votes. This is mostly down to the advertising from political strategist David Axelrod.
He spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston, Massachusetts, about changing the government’s economic and social priorities, whilst questioning Bush’s management of the Iraq war. 9.1million people watched the speech, despite it not being televised on the three main channels. In June 2004, Obama’s main rival, Republican Jack Ryan, dropped out and was replaced by Alan Keyes, two months later. In the November general elections, Obama won with 70% of the votes, compared with Keyes’ 27%. This was the largest victory margin in Illinois history. Obama was sworn into the US Senate on 4th January 2005, becoming only the 5th African-American Senator and the 3rd to be elected in a popular fashion. He was popular and powerful in the Senate; ranking 11th in a poll of most powerful senators. He announced his resignation on 13th November 2007 to prepare for his run for presidency.
Barack Obama is a dedicated Christian and keen basketball player. He also speaks Indonesian on a colloquial level. He had a telephone conversation with the current president of Indonesia in Indonesian, in November 2008, for the APEC summit. This was later related to Indonesian media by the president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Obama joined his high school’s varsity team, where he participated in basketball. A recent article in the Times also shows that he spends 45minutes in the gym, six days a week. He developed a sore hip during his presidential campaign, which isn’t that surprising considering the work he does. He can do triceps and shoulder presses and overhead extensions with 50lb dumbbells. Inside the White House is a swimming pool, tennis courts, putting green, basketball court and a running track. Jimmy Carter, president from 1977 to 1981, famously collapsed whilst out jogging. He is also said to talk to his trainer very loudly over his headphones but also wipe his work out bench of sweat afterwards.
Obama’s religious views came into being during his adult life. His mother was raised by parents who he described as non practicing Methodists and Baptists. He also says that his mother was in many ways the most spiritually awakened person that I have ever known. He father was raised in a Muslim background but was a confirmed atheist when his parents met. His stepfather was said to have found religion not particularly useful. Whilst working with the black churches in his early twenties, Obama said that he began to understand the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change. He was baptized into the Trinity United Church of Christ in 1988 and was an active member for two decades.
Although not a heavy smoker, Obama has also tried to quit smoking on several occasions. These attempts include one just before his campaign, which was highly publicized and ongoing. He does say that he won’t smoke in White House.