Barack Obama

Barack Obama

44th President, 2009-2016

Early Life and Pre-presidency

White House portrait of Barack Obama, 2009

White House portrait of Barack Obama, 2009

  • Born Barack Hussein Obama II on August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawaii.
  • Parents: Barack Hussein Obama, Sr. and Stanley Ann Dunham. Half-sister: Maya Soetoro-Ng.
  • His parents divorced and his mother remarried Lolo Soetoro, and Indonesian graduate student. The family lived in Indonesia from when Obama was 2 to 10 years old. Obama went back to Hawaii to study and lived with his maternal grandparents.
  • Studied at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School and Besuki Public School in Indonesia, then moved back to Hawaii to attend Punahou School from 1971 to 1979 (fifth grade to high school).
  • Attended Occidental College in Los Angeles, California in 1979 then transferred to Columbia University in New York City in 1981, graduating in 1983.
  • Worked in New York after graduation then was hired by a community organization in Chicago, Illinois where he worked from 1985 to 1988.
  • Entered Harvard Law School in 1988, graduating magna cum laude in 1991.
  • At Harvard Law School, he became the first African–American to be elected President of the Harvard Law Reviewin 1990.
  • Became a visiting fellow at the University of Chicago Law School in 1991, then a lecturer of constitutional law from 1992 to 2004.
  • Married Michelle Robinson (1964–) on October 3, 1992. Children: Malia Ann (1998–) and Natasha, also known as Sasha, (2001–).
  • Joined a Chicago law firm in 1993 and worked there until 2004. Voluntarily inactivated his license in 2007 to avoid paying the annual fees and taking the required continuing education classes.
  • Elected to the Illinois State Senate in 1996 and served from 1997 to 2004.
  • Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and served from 2005 to 2008.
  • Nominated by the Democratic Party as its Presidential candidate in the 2008 election with Joe Biden as his running mate.
  • Won the 2008 Presidential election with 52.7% of the popular vote and the majority of the electoral votes and becoming the first African–American to be elected U.S. President.


President Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 2010

President Obama signing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, 2010

  • Took his oath of office on January 20, 2009 at the West Front, U.S. Capitol.
  • When Obama began his term, a severe economic depression was in place with high unemployment rates, rapidly declining housing prices, and banks and other financial institutions in grave danger of collapsing.
  • Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 in January. The law amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with regards to equal-pay discrimination.
  • Signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in February. The law was a stimulus package worth more than $800 billion that created jobs through infrastructure projects, expanded unemployment benefits, and provided tax cuts.
  • Authorized the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Iraq beginning June 2009. The withdrawal of troops was completed by December 2011.
  • Awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act in March 2010. The laws provided universal health care for Americans.
  • Signed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in July 2010. The law made several changes to financial regulation in the United States.
  • Signed the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010 in December. The law provided a reprieve from tax cuts enacted under former President George W. Bush.
  • Signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010 in December. The law allows homosexuals to openly serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • In March 2011, Obama made a televised address regarding U.S. participation in a NATO-led efforts in the fighting in Libya.
  • Authorized Operation Neptune Spear on May 2, 2011 that led to the death of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan after U.S. Navy SEALS stormed the compound where he had been hiding.
  • Signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 in August. The law averted a debt-ceiling crisis that would have caused the government to go into sovereign default.
  • Ran for re-election in the 2012 election and won with 51% of the popular vote and the majority of the electoral votes.
  • Signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 in January 2013. The law addressed certain provisions in the Bush tax cuts that were set to expire.



Barack Obama was the 44th President of the United States of America and served two presidencies back to back from 2009 to 2017.

Early Life and Education

Born on 4th August 1961 to parents Ann Dunham and Barack Senior, after whom he was named, Barack Hussein Obama II was raised in Hawaii and for a short time in Indonesia before studying at Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

Barack’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham (known for most of her life as Ann), was born on 29th November 1942 at an army base in Wichita, Kansas during World War II. Her father, also named Stanley, had enlisted in the US army after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, leaving his wife Madelyn to bring up Ann whilst also working in a Boeing factory on a bomber assembly line. When the war was over, and Stanley returned to the family they moved a number of times, going firstly to California where her father studied at University of California, Berkeley. Between 1948 and 1955 they moved to Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. In 1955 the family settled temporarily in Seattle, Washington in the Mercer Island area so that Ann could attend the Mercer Island High School which was renowned for teaching students to challenge the social norms, question authority, and not assume there was only one route to go down in life. This helped Ann grow up with very liberal views, engaging deeply in education and politics.

In 1960, shortly after Hawaii became the 50th state, and after Ann had graduated from high school, the family moved to Honolulu so that Stanley and Madelyn could benefit from the business opportunities the state was offering. Ann enrolled at the University of Hawaii in Manoa, and it was here, supposedly in a Russian language class that she first met Barack Obama Sr., the school’s first African student and a gifted academic.

Barack Obama Sr. was born on 18th June 1936 in Rachuonyo District in Kenya which at the time was a colony and protectorate of the British Empire. He was raised in the Nyanza Province by his father, Onyango Obama, his mother, Habiba Akumu Nyanjango of Karaboni, and later by Onyango’s third wife Sarah Ogwel of Kogelo. Barack was the only son and had two sisters. He was educated at the exclusive Anglican boarding school Maseno National School.

Barack Senior married his first wife, Kezia Aoko in 1954 at the age of 18 and they had two children together, Roy and Auma. In 1959, Barack Senior won a scholarship to study in the West as part of an education programme being organised by the Kenyan leader Tom Mboya. His wife and two children were supported in Kenya through the programme and Barack was able to travel and live in Hawaii whilst studying under the scheme. It was here that he met Ann Dunham.

Ann and Barack Senior began dating and when she became pregnant in 1960 the couple married despite vehement opposition from both of their families. Their son Barack Obama Junior was born on 4th August. Despite the marriage, the couple soon parted ways, with Ann moving to Seattle, Washington where she studied at the University of Washington before returning to Honolulu to continue her undergraduate education. In the meantime, Barack Senior had remained in Hawaii to graduate with a BA in Economics, before moving to Harvard University where he studied for a fellowship in economics. In 1964 the couple officially divorced when Barack Junior was three years old.

Not long after this, Ann met Lolo Soetoro, a Javanese surveyor who had come to Honolulu in 1962 to study at the University of Hawaii. The couple began dating in 1964 and after Soetoro’s graduation in 1965 the couple were married however they found themselves separated soon after when he returned to Indonesia. Ann wanted to complete her degree first and so she remained in Honolulu until she graduated in 1967 and then she moved with the six-year-old Barack to Jakarta to be with her husband. The family lived together in different districts of Jakarta and on 15th August 1970, Soetoro and Ann had a daughter Maya Kassandra Soetoro together, Barack’s half-sister.

In 1971 Ann sent Barack back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents Madelyn and Stanley Dunham. Some sources suggest this was because Ann feared for the safety of her son, however it could also have been for education purposes as in Jakarta, Barack attended an Indonesian-language school, meaning Ann was solely responsible for any English-language education that he received. With a baby daughter increasing her responsibilities and limiting her time, it may be that she recognised that her son would receive a better education in Hawaii. On top of this, her mother by this time had worked her way up the ladder at the Bank of Hawaii and was a Vice President in 1970 which meant that with the help of her parents and a scholarship, she could enrol Barack at the prestigious Punahou School in Hawaii.

A year later Ann and Maya moved back to Hawaii to rejoin Barack and her parents, where she studied for a postgraduate qualification in anthropology at the University of Hawaii. She later moved back to Jakarta with her daughter to do anthropological fieldwork and be reunited with her husband Lolo. Unfortunately, that marriage did not last and just five years later in 1980, they divorced. Ann remained in Jakarta working for various organisations, companies and gaining a PhD in anthropology in 1992.

Maya, Barack’s half-sister remained in Jakarta attending the International School there until 1984 when she followed the same path as her half-brother and returned to Hawaii to attend Punahou Academy which she graduated from in 1988. She then studied at Columbia University for a BA and New York University for an MA in Secondary Education. In 2006 she received a PhD in international comparative education from the University of Hawaii. She and Barack have a close relationship despite having spent large periods of their childhoods apart.

Barack thrived at the Punahou Academy, excelling in basketball and graduating with academic honours in 1979. However, it was whilst he was studying here that he first became aware of racism and what it meant that he was an African-American. In his biography, he stated, “I noticed that there was nobody like me in the Sears, Roebuck Christmas catalogue . . . and that Santa was a white man. I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my sense and limbs seemingly intact, looking as I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me.”

After graduating from Punahou Academy he moved to Los Angeles where he initially studied at Occidental College before transferring to Columbia University in New York which he graduated from in 1983 with a degree in political science. After two years in the business industry in New York, he moved to Chicago where he worked with low-income residents in the poor South Side as a community worker.

It was whilst he was studying at University that his father, Barack Senior died, on 24th November 1982 in a car accident in Nairobi. He had previously been injured in another accident where he had lost both of his legs and this resulted in the loss of his job and therefore income. During his time working in Chicago, Barack visited his family in Kenya and paid a visit to the grave of his father where he says he “sat and wept.”


Law School & Political Beginnings

When he returned from Kenya, having closed a chapter of his childhood, Barack began to focus more on the future. He entered Harvard Law School in 1998 where he caught the attention of his lecturers and the faculty in general. Whilst at Harvard, he became the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review and he worked as a summer associate for a Chicago law firm where he met another young lawyer, Michelle Robinson. The couple began dating not long afterwards.

When Barack graduated magna cum laude (with great honours) in 1991, he returned to Chicago where he began to work as a civil rights lawyer for Miner, Barnhill & Galland. It was during this time that he taught constitutional law part-time at Chicago University Law School and first dipped his toes in the political waters, helping to organise voter registration drives for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign.

He married Michelle Robinson on 3rd October 1992 and they moved to Kenwood to begin their married lives.

In 1995, Obama published his autobiography entitled, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance which was highly praised and has since been translated into more than 25 languages.

In 1996, Obama took his first steps into the world of politics, running and winning a seat in the Illinois State Senate. During his time as a senator, he worked with local politicians to improve various areas of the state including healthcare, education, law enforcement and income tax.

His daughter Malia Ann, named for her grandmother, was born on 4th July 1998, and their second daughter Natasha, known as Sasha, was born on 10th June 2001.


Quote: “If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress.”


By August 2004 Obama was firmly on the road with his bid for the Illinois Senate seat, running against Alan Keyes, the former presidential candidate. The two had vastly differing opinions on matters such as abortion, gun control, the war in Iraq and education and they hotly debated these issues during this campaign period. However, it was Obama who was to win the election with 70% of the vote which made it the biggest electoral victory in Illinois history and made Obama only the third African-American to be elected as a State Senator.

During his tenure as senator, Obama worked on issues such as overseas threats from weapons of mass destruction, federal spending, clean energy development, veteran welfare and spent much time and effort with victims of Hurricane Katrina which affected Florida, Mississippi, and New Orleans.

In October 2006 he released his second book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream where he talked about his hopes for America’s future. This second book was another huge success and has again been translated into a number of languages and has spent time at the top of the bestseller lists.


Quote: “change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”


First Presidential Term

In February 2007 Obama announced that he was running for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination against then New York Senator, Hillary Clinton. He made several rousing speeches as part of the Democratic National Convention and these increased his popularity and won him the nomination ahead of the general election. Hillary Clinton then gave Obama her full support as the presidential candidate and his election campaign began. His campaign motto was “Yes, yes we can.”

Barack Obama beat his Republican opponent, John McCain and won the Presidency with 52.9% of the votes on 4th November 2008 and so became the first African-American President in US history and the 44th President of the United States. He was sworn into office on 20th January 2009.

‘His victory was greeted with an unusual degree of enthusiasm and excitement – not just in America, but around the world. After decades of racism and segregation blighting American society, the election of the first black American president was hugely symbolic’ []

The America that Obama inherited in 2009 was one mired in an economic recession, embroiled in two foreign wars, and in the midst of a national housing crisis. He had his work cut out for him from the very first day, indeed between November and January between election and swearing in, he was already working on policies, bills and changes that he would implement as soon as he became active. In his inauguration speech he said:


“Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious, and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met.”


In the first few months of his presidency, Obama implemented the Stimulus Package, formally known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which promoted short-term economic growth through the saving of existing jobs and the creation of many more jobs in the near future. The cost of the package was initially recorded at $787 billion but was then revised to $831. This did, however, help the American economy to recover and began to reverse unemployment in America. He also bailed out the automotive industry, cut taxes for working families, small businesses and first-time buyers, and revised the annual budget.

Overseas Obama also made radical changes. He set out to improve relations with China, Russia, Europe, Iran and Cuba as well as to begin the process of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan with an aim that by August 2010 almost all troops would be withdrawn from Iraq. He also signed an executive order which immediately banned excessive interrogation techniques and ordered the closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba. Whilst Obama did reduce the number of inmates during his presidency from around 245 to 41, his order to have the prison closed was vehemently opposed and did not succeed. In January 2018 President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep the prison open indefinitely. The prison is widely regarded to breach many basic human rights and for his work to improve and then close the camp, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.


Quote: “We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more” (2010 State of the Union Speech).


One of Obama’s biggest successes, despite much opposition from Republicans, was the introduction of the Affordable Care Act into law in March 2010. This new law, dubbed “Obamacare” by opponents, improved health care for Americans in many ways, including the prohibition of the denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions, allowing any persons under the age of 26 to be covered under parental plans, provided free health screenings for certain persons, and expanded access to medical care for millions of Americans. It was a huge breakthrough for American healthcare systems but was heavily criticised for the perceived pressure it would place on the economy and the annual budget.


Quote: “Millions of Americans, for the first time are gonna be able to get affordable health care.”


In 2011 he made several military changes and manoeuvres. Firstly, he repealed a military policy, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” which prevented openly gay persons from serving in the US Armed Forces. He also approved NATO strikes in Libya, and he covertly organised an operation in Pakistan which led to the killing of the al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.


Second Presidential Term

In 2012, Obama campaigned for his second term in office, running his campaign much like he did in 2008 by focusing on normal, working Americans, promising economic growth, increases in jobs, a focus on reducing foreign spending and committing to policies such as the environment and negotiating peace between the US and foreign nations.


Quote: “We will finish what we started. And we’ll remind the world just why it is that the United States of America is the greatest nation on Earth.”


The election campaign was hugely successful and on 6th November 2012, Obama secured his second term in office, gaining over 60% of the vote against the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney. However, the occasion was marred when, less than a month later, a tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School saw 20 children and 6 adults shot to death in Newtown, Connecticut. This immediately raised the question of stricter gun control laws, whether Obama intended to implement stricter laws and whether incidents like the Sandy Hook shooting could be prevented in the future.

Tragedy would continue to mark the years of Obama’s second term as on 15th April 2013 a terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon killed three people and left more than 200 injured. This event happened in the same month that Obama’s bill for stricter background checks on all gun purchases and the ban of certain weapons was blocked and ultimately failed to pass.

In this second term, Obama also made huge leaps with the relationship between the US and Iran. He personally spoke to the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani on the phone, and began the process of negotiating a deal between Iran, the US and the EU. By 2015 he announced that the US and other world powers had reached an agreement with Iran in a nuclear deal. This deal saw the US remove tough sanctions which would allow them to increase their sales of oil in exchange for the limitation of their nuclear program.

In 2015 Obama also attended the Paris Climate Conference where the US became a key player in arranging a deal where all participating countries would agree to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, thereby helping to reduce the rise in global temperatures. By October 2016 enough countries had pledged to the Paris Agreement that it began to take effect from the 4th November of that year. This alongside Obama’s Clean Power Plan which had been announced in August of the same year, marked a huge step forward for the US in taking preventative action in the protection of the environment and the reduction of greenhouse gasses.

In domestic affairs, on 26 June 2015 same-sex marriage became legal across America when the Supreme Court overturned an earlier ruling that same-sex marriage bans were constitutional. Obama stated that “in doing so, they’ve reaffirmed that all Americans are entitled to the equal protection of the law. That all people should be treated equally, regardless of who they are or who they love.”


Life After Presidency

On 4th November 2016, Donald Trump was voted as the 45th President of the United States of America, thereby taking the torch from Obama and carrying its burden. In his final months as President Obama tried to push as many bills and orders through the Senate as he could, he met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and set the ball rolling for more American, Canadian cohesion; he travelled to Cuba with his family in a historic political meeting between himself and Raul Castro; and he made a final attempt to implement gun controls.

In his farewell address, Obama talked much about working together, about ensuring that America works together to keep moving forward and that hearts and laws must change to prevent discrimination. He concluded his address thus:


“My fellow Americans, it has been the honour of my life to serve you. I won’t stop; in fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President – the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I am asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change – but in yours.”


Since leaving the White House, Barack, Michelle and Sasha have moved to a family home in the Kalorama district of Washington D.C. to allow Sasha to be able to complete her schooling. Malia is currently studying at Harvard University.

Obama has kept a finger in politics, meeting with various heads of state in China, India and other countries and has made several comments about Trump’s first year in office, including urging the President to think before he tweets.

It is unclear exactly what Former President Obama will do with his time now that he is no longer President, but Netflix recently announced on their Twitter page that they “have entered into a multi-year agreement to produce films and series for Netflix, potentially including scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries and features.” The Obamas have established their own media company, Higher Ground Productions who will produce the content alongside them. It’s certainly a first for a post-President, but definitely, a route that will be very interesting to follow.