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Barack Hussein Obama II was born August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother, Ann Dunham, was a student from Kansas and his father, Barack Obama, Sr., was a foreign exchange student from Nyanza Province, Kenya. Barack’s parents separated when he was two and divorced the following year.
Obama’s mother later married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian student also studying in Hawaii. In 1967, all Indonesian students studying abroad and their families were required to move back to Indonesia. Obama spent the next four years in Indonesia, where he was an excellent student.
At the age of 10, Obama moved back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents. He attended the prestigious Punahou Academy, graduating in 1979 with honors. From there, he moved to Los Angeles to attend Occidental College for two years. He then transferred to New York City’s Columbia University, where he majored in political science with a focus in international relations; he received his B.A. in 1983. Obama remained in New York City for the next two years, working at the Business International Corporation and then with the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Obama moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1985, and served as director of the Developing Communities Project. Under his guidance, the organization’s staff expanded from one to 13 people, and its annual budget went from $70,000 to $400,000. Among the projects he oversaw were a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and an organization protecting tenants’ rights.
During the 1980s, Obama realized he could help a larger number of people in more substantial ways through politics and legislation. With this in mind, he entered Harvard Law School in 1988. In his first year, Obama was made editor of the Harvard Law Review. He was elected the journal’s first African American president the following year. This high honor earned him a great deal of media attention and a publishing deal, resulting in Dreams from My Father in 1995.
After graduating from Harvard, Obama returned to Chicago to direct Illinois’ Project Vote, a campaign that registered 150,000 of the state’s African American voters. Obama spent the next 12 years teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School, while also working at the law firm of Davis, Miner, Barnhill, & Galland.
Elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, Obama immediately focused on ethics and health care legislation. He introduced tax credits benefiting low-income workers, created welfare reform, and improved early education programs for the poor.
As chairman of the Illinois Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, Obama successfully sponsored legislation requiring police to report the race of drivers they arrested and videotape homicide interrogations.
Obama’s unexpected landslide Democratic primary victory for the U.S. Senate in 2004 earned him national acclaim in the Democratic Party and spurred talks of a presidential future. Later that year, he won the Senate seat 70% to 27% – the largest victory in Illinois state race election history.
As America’s fifth African American U.S. Senator, Obama immediately began on legislation to destroy weapons of mass destruction in Eastern Europe and Russia. He also helped establish USAspending.gov, a website that makes all federal spending information available to the public. And his amendment to the Defense Authorization Act provides safeguards to discharged military personnel suffering from personality disorders. Additionally, he sponsored an amendment granting a year of job protection to family members caring for soldiers with combat-related injuries.
Obama announced he was running for President on February 10, 2007, in front of the Old State Capitol building in Springfield, Illinois. This was the same site that Abraham Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech in 1858.
Obama’s campaign stressed his plans to end the Iraq War, decrease energy dependence, and provide universal health care. In June 2008, after a close race with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination, Obama was selected as the party’s presidential nominee.
Throughout his campaign, Obama set several fundraising records, especially for the large number of small donations he received. He was the first candidate to reject public financing in the general election since the system’s creation in 1976.
Obama won the election over Republican John McCain with 52.9% of the popular vote, making him the United States’ first African American President. During his first few days in office, Obama kept his promise to share presidential records under the Freedom of Information Act. Within his first 100 days in office, he signed a $787 billion economic stimulus package providing assistance for health care and education.