I love to read biographies about great people, and in an attempt to get to know our forty-fourth president better, I've just read Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama. This #1 New York Times bestseller was originally published in 1995, and republished in 2004 with a preface by Barack Obama. The memoir details his early quest for an identity as he grows up and learns about his absent father through relatives in the U.S. as well as Kenya. As a mixed race person, Barack Obama struggled to carve out an identity for himself, find his calling in life--and eventually achieved the ultimate American Dream, to become the President of our great country.
Candid and gripping, this autobiographical narrative tells Barack Hussein Obama's story up until his entry into Harvard Law School. He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on August 4, 1961, to Barack Obama, Sr. of Kenya, and Stanley Ann Dunham (called, "Ann") of Wichita, Kansas, both students at the time at the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His mother was white and his father was black, and at that time interracial marriages in the U. S. were rare. Obama's parents separated when he was two years old, and divorced in 1964. His father remained an enigma to young Barack Obama (often called, "Barry"), because he saw him only once more before his death, when Obama Sr. came to Hawaii for a month when his son was ten years old.
After her divorce, Ann Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, an East-West Center student from Indonesia, and the family moved to Jakarta. When Obama was ten, he returned to Hawaii and lived with his loving, white grandparents--his mother joined them later--for the educational opportunities available there at the prestigious Punahou Academy. Along with this opportunity, however, he first became conscious of racism as an African American.
Obama enrolled at Occidental College after high school at Punahou, but transferred to Columbia University and majored in political science. After college, he worked for a year in business, then moved to Chicago, working for a non-profit doing community organizing in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the city's South Side. He also joined Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Before attending Harvard Law School, Obama visited his African relatives in Kenya and this is the final setting of the book. In addition to telling the story of Obama's life and discoveries about his father, this book includes much self-reflection on his own encounters with race and race relations in the United States. Through his words, Barack Obama comes across as caring, down-to-earth, and intelligent (of course), with a unique and interesting background. I didn't know that he spent a few years of his childhood in Indonesia after his mother remarried, and there are many other equally interesting aspects of his life described in vivid detail.
Currently I'm reading his second book, which is as sincere and thoughtful as his first, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. In it Obama discusses his political convictions in chapters titled: Republicans and Democrats, Values, Our Constitution, Politics, Opportunity, Faith, Race, The World Beyond Our Borders, and Family. I must admit that I've been skipping around a bit, instead of reading the chapters in order; the chapter called "Family", where he talks about his wife, Michelle, and children, Malia and Sasha, is genuinely touching. The book's title was derived from a sermon delivered by Obama's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright (this sermon is mentioned in Obama's first book). While a Senate candidate, Obama delivered this keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, which catapulted him to national prominence. In 2006, The Audacity of Hope was published in book form, which elaborates on many of the same themes in his convention speech. This is one of my favorite passages from his speech:
"In the end, that's what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or a politics of hope? John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope. I'm not talking about blind optimism here -- the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don't talk about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. No, I'm talking about something more substantial. It's the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs; the hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores; the hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta; the hope of a mill worker's son who dares to defy the odds; the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope!"Senator Obama's victory in the historical presidential election of 2008, forty-three years after the Voting Rights Act passed, which finally to gave African Americans voting rights, aptly illustrates the meaning of "The Audacity of Hope". And when you think about it, the most important things we may dare to have are dreams and hope.