Black History Month Pathfinder Profile: Barack Obama

Barack Obama is an attorney and politician who made history as the first African American President of the United States. He began his legacy of service in 1985 as a community organizer on Chicago’s largely impoverished South Side. As a junior senator he helped pass legislation that tightened campaign finance regulations, expanded health care to poor families, and reformed criminal justice and welfare laws. He also organized voting drives that registered tens of thousands of African Americans on voting rolls.

Obama started his collegiate studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles in 1979 before transferring to Columbia University 2 years later. He graduated from Columbia University in 1983 with a degree in political science. From Columbia, he enrolled at Harvard Law School. He became the first African American President of the Harvard Law Review before he graduated magna cum laude in 1991. From 1992 to 2004 he taught constitutional law part-time at the University of Chicago Law School.

Obama published his autobiography, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, in 1995.  He narrated the audiobook version and received a Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word album in 2006. In 2004 he delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention which sparked his meteoric rise. His first book became a best seller and in October 2006 when he published his second book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream it became an instant best seller. He won a second grammy for the audiobook.

Obama served as an Illinois state senator from 1997 to 2004 and then as a U.S. senator from Illinois from 2005 to 2008. On August 27, Obama became the first African American to be nominated for the presidency by either major party. His meteoric rise as a junior senator was fueled by his charisma, oratory style and his message of hope. He inspired a nation of dreamers to believe in the promises of a better future. In 2008, he was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year.

In October 2009, Obama received a Nobel Peace Prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” Perhaps his most sweeping impact was The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Obamacare became law in March 2010 and was heralded as the most significant regulatory makeover of the U.S. healthcare system since the 1960s. It was a culmination of Obama’s efforts to increase quality, affordability, and access to healthcare for all Americans.

Since leaving the office of the President, Obama continues to make history. He chose the first African American artist, Kehinde Wiley, to craft the official presidential portrait. The Obamas have been involved in several ventures since leaving office in 2016, and their production company Higher Ground has deals with Spotify and Netflix.

The Ellison for Congress campaign salutes Barack Obama for forging a path that inspired a nation to reclaim the American dream.