Sunday, January 21, 2007
Barack Obama speaks for the multitudes
Who Is Senator Barak Obama and What Does He Believe?
Barack Obama was born in 1961 in Hawaii to a white mother from Kansas and black father from Kenya who met while attending the University of Hawaii. His mother Anna, as Obama describes her in his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, was "a lonely witness for secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace Corps, position-paper liberalism."
His father, also named Barack (Swahili for "One who is blessed by God," and perhaps via Arabic and Semitic roots related to the Hebrew baruch, "blessed") Obama, left his rural Luo-speaking village and his Muslim father to become an "agnostic" and study economics abroad. His son was two when the elder Barack left the boy and his mother to return to Harvard University and then to Kenya, where he became a globe-traveling economist for the government.
When young Obama was six, his mother married an Indonesian oil manager, a "non-practicing Muslim," and the family moved to Jakarta, where his half-sister Maya was born. In this exotic Islamic country, wrote Obama's good friend, the liberal lawyer and best-selling novelist Scott Turow, Barack Obama spent "two years in a Muslim school, then two more in a Catholic school."
At age 10 Obama was sent back to Hawaii to be raised largely by his middle-class white maternal grandparents, and to attend the prestigious Punahou Academy. For only one month of his life, when he was 10, Obama was visited by and talked with his biological father. During adolescence he struggled to comprehend his mixed racial and cultural identity and experimented with marijuana and cocaine. Obama wrote about this in his memoir, he told Turow, because "I wanted to show how and why some kids, maybe especially young black men, flirt with danger and self-destruction."
Obama attended Occidental College in California and then Columbia University in New York City. After graduating in 1983 with a degree in Political Science, he applied for work as a community organizer with groups across the United States while working as a writer and financial analyst for Business International Corporation. One small group of 20-odd churches in Chicago offered him a job helping residents of poor, predominantly black Far South Side neighborhoods. He moved to Chicago and in June 1985 became Director of the Developing Communities Project, working for the next three years on efforts that ranged from job training to school reform to hazardous waste cleanup. In 1986, after meeting his Kenyan half-sister Auma, he traveled to Africa and sat at the grave of his father who had died in a Nairobi traffic accident four years earlier.
In 1988 Obama enrolled at Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 1991. While there, he became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review. From April to November 1992, he served as the Director of "Illinois Project VOTE," which registered approximately 150,000 mostly poor, mostly Democratic voters in Chicago's Cook County before that year's presidential election. The following year he became a litigator of voting rights and employment cases with the law firm Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, P.C., where he remains a Counsel today. In 1993 he also became a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, another position he still holds.