The Early Years

Born Barack Hussein Obama in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961, the future president was raised by his mother and his maternal grandparents. As a young child, he didn't show any early signs of political ambition. Rather, he liked to party and play basketball, and he did not particularly excel in his studies. However, by high school, he had begun to wonder about some of the injustices that he saw in his everyday life. For example, he saw that many professional basketball players he watched on TV were Black, but saw no Black coaches. He also began to wonder why honest, hard-working Americans were still struggling to make ends meet. His grandparents did not have the answers to these questions, so he turned to books. Reading began to help expand his view of the world around him.
In 1979, he began attending Occidental College in Los Angeles. He kept up his reading habit, although in college, he admits the only reason he read complicated works of political theory, like those by Foucault and Marx, was to impress the ladies. While it didn't get him many dates, it did open his eyes up to politics.
In 1981, during his junior year, Obama transferred to Columbia University, where he became more politically active. In fact, many people said he became obsessed with politics, which made it difficult for him to make many friends, as most people thought he wasn't any fun. However, Obama wasn't concerned with making friends. He wanted to put his ideas into practice.
After graduating from Columbia University in 1983, Obama began working as a community organizer in Chicago, working with communities that were harmed by recent steel plant closures. He credits this work with helping him understand the real-life problems people face. Meeting with the community also helped him come to terms with his own identity as a mixed-race Black man. But, however valuable the work was, Obama soon became frustrated with the slow pace of change. He was dissatisfied with the limitations of his role and wanted more power to shape policy and implement real, tangible change that would affect the community in positive ways. Therefore, he decided to apply to Harvard Law School to become a lawyer.
In the fall of 1988, he enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he continued to spend his time reading and studying politics and civics. While in law school, he became the first Black person to be elected as president of the Harvard Law Review. Shortly afterward, he was offered a book deal, as well as several lucrative, high-status job offers. However, Obama decided to turn them down.