The Stunning Transformation Of Barack Obama

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When Barack Obama was named the 44th president of the United States in 2008, people all over the world celebrated. His election was a historic one, as Obama was the first Black person to be elected to the office in the history of the U.S. While many people had only just gotten to know the young former senator during his election campaign, there were some people who could recall with tremendous affection the young man who was the first Black man to be president of the Harvard Law Review, the basketball player from law school, or even the young boy who lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia for four years.

Obama will always be remembered as a president of the United States, but his life story reveals that he is also so much more than that: an avowed community organizer who stands up for what he believes in, a compelling and convincing public speaker, and, perhaps most importantly, a dad to his daughters, Malia and Sasha, and husband to his wife, Michelle. Here's a look at Obama's journey through the years.

He was born in Hawaii in 1961

As many people now know, Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961. As shared by the Miller Center, his parents, Ann Dunham and Barack Obama, Sr., met as students at the University of Hawaii. However, his father didn't live with the young family for long following his son's birth; the elder Obama left Hawaii when his son was only 2 years old and eventually moved back to his native Kenya. 

Barack Obama has been open about the questions he wrestled with after his father left; he opened up about those questions in his book with Bruce Springsteen, "Renegades: Born in the USA" (via The Guardian). While speaking about men and boys in the United States, Obama said of his generation, "There was never a full reckoning of who our dads were, what they had in them, how we have to understand that and talk about that. What lessons we should learn from it. All that kind of got buried."

Despite his father's absence, Obama was emotionally and physically supported by his mother and her parents, who also lived in Hawaii.

Barack Obama lived in Indonesia for four years a child

As a young child, Barack Obama lived with his mother and stepfather in Indonesia for four years. While the experience was likely challenging in a lot of ways, he also reaped truly unique rewards from having had it. As related by the Miller Center, Obama once explained that being exposed to multiple cultures had a profound impact on him. He said, "I was raised as an Indonesian child and a Hawaiian child and as a Black child and as a white child. And so what I benefited from is a multiplicity of cultures that all fed me."

At the age of 10, Obama was sent back to Hawaii to live with his grandparents after his mother decided he should get an education there instead. He began attending the Punahou School, which he would continue to be enrolled in for the rest of his childhood. 

He went to college in Los Angeles and New York

Once he graduated high school, Barack Obama went off to college at the Occidental College in Los Angeles before transferring to New York's Columbia University. While speaking to David Axelrod on his podcast "The Axe Files" (via CNN), Obama later admitted that he was a bit of a relaxed student while in LA, but that he transformed himself and his intentions after arriving in New York. 

Obama explained that he feels he didn't really gain discipline until his early 20s, in part because he had very little oversight as a teen, saying, "It just took longer to manifest in me than it might have in some other kids. This may be an area where the lack of structure during my high school years because my mom wasn't always around, my grandparents, they're older, they're not as strict and paying attention." He also added that, while he did spend a fair bit of time at Occidental College partying, he was also nurturing a burgeoning interest in social policy and civil rights, both of which would later serve his political aspirations quite well. 

Barack Obama began working as a community organizer after college

A lot of people who have followed the origin story of Barack Obama know how that he spent several years working as a community organizer. The work had a profound impact on him personally and professionally. Obama later told George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that he took up community organizing after moving to Chicago at the age of 24 (via ABC News). He explained that during that time, he "worked with churches, who were dealing with steel plants that had closed in their neighborhoods, to set up job training programs for the unemployed and after-school programs for youth."

His boss Gerald Kellman later told The New York Times that the president of the United States was different from the start. As Kellman shared, Obama was clearly thirsty for experience. Kellman said, "He challenged me on whether we could teach him anything. He wanted to know things like 'How are you going to train me?' and 'What am I going to learn?'"

While Obama only spent three years in the role, he managed to attract quite a lot of attention and to demonstrate his already apparent ability to motivate and excited others about his ideas. As the Rev. Samuel Strachan told The New York Times about Obama's time in the community, "I got the distinct impression that he was selling something he believed in, and I was going to buy it."

He was accepted to law school in 1988

In 1988, Barack Obama was accepted to Harvard Law School, a move that would go on to become arguably one of the most important of his life. As the Miller Center shared, Obama was elected as the first Black president of the Harvard Law Review in 1990. Obama celebrated the victory, but was later cautious while discussing what it really meant with The New York Times. He told the publication, while his election indicated that plenty of progress had been made at Harvard, "You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of Black students with at least equal talent who don't get a chance."

Obama also played basketball at Harvard, and he was known for his skills on the court. While his election to the Law Review definitely catapulted Obama to a position of power upon graduation, many of his former classmates happily recall a young man who seemed to be effortlessly cool and who managed to stand apart from the rest (per NPR).

Barack Obama met Michelle Robinson while in law school

Barack Obama's time in law school was special for another big reason: That's when he met the woman he would go on to marry, a young lawyer named Michelle Robinson. As he later recalled in a post written for, he and Michelle met during the summer following his first year of law school when he was working at the firm where she employed. She was assigned to be his adviser, which meant the pair spent a lot of time together.

Obviously, one thing led to another and they began dating, though not before she turned him down several times. In fact, Michelle only said yes once he agreed he would quit his job, and the two then went on a first date that included a stop at Baskin-Robbins.

While she was charmed by Barack Obama, Michelle also had her brother Craig Robinson run interference to make sure he was the real deal.  As he later told ABC News, Craig challenged Obama to a basketball game. He explained, "You can really tell selfishness on the basketball court. You know, he wasn't selfish."

Barack Obama married Michelle in 1992

After a few years of dating, Barack and Michelle Obama decided to make things official. The pair got married in Chicago in October 1992. As Brides notes, their families were intimately involved in the wedding, with Michelle's brother walking her down the wedding aisle and Barack's brother was best man in the ceremony. The twosome danced to Stevie Wonder for their first dance and honeymooned in California.

Barack made a point to celebrate his wife throughout his historic 2008 presidential campaign, and at one point, he offered some advice (via ABC News): that men should marry women who are "superior" to themselves. He then added, "I mean, she's so ... part of me. I look at our daughters. I think everybody feels this at a certain point. I can't imagine having daughters that look any different from Malia and Sasha. And they are perfect."

Following their wedding, the pair moved to Chicago's Hyde Park, where they would live as they started a family (via Miller Center).

His political career began in 1996

While Barack and Michelle Obama were busy enjoying their first few years of newlywed life together, the then-future president was also getting serious about his political aspirations. In 1996, Barack Obama decided to run for Illinois State Senate, and many sources have reported that, while doing so, he employed tactics that have been described as "hardball." He was able to use election rules to discredit three of his potential opponents, which resulted in an election in which he ran without an opponent at all (per CNN).

Political commentators later said that while the move might raise some eyebrows, especially during Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. Jay Stewart, a member of the Better Government Association in Chicago, told CNN that, while Barack's move probably wouldn't fly these days, or even at the time of his presidential run, it was okay at the time. He explained, "Politics ain't beanbag, as they say in Chicago. You play with your elbows up, and you're pretty tough and ruthless when you have to be. Sen. Obama felt that's what was necessary at the time, that's what he did."

As the Miller Center notes, Obama won the election and began charting a more political course for his life.

He became a father in 1998 and again in 2001

The late 1990s and early 2000s were a busy time for Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama. In 1998, the two welcomed their first daughter, Malia Obama, who was born on July 4. A few years later, their second daughter, Sasha, made her arrival in 2001, and the parents knew their family was complete.

Both Barack and Michelle Obama have been vocal about relishing their roles as parents. When Malia was 14 years old, Barack told Essence that the idea that his daughter would be leaving their home in only four more years was a bit heartbreaking. He shared a sentiment that many parents experience: that our time at home with our children is fleeting and should be cherished. He explained, "The finite amount of time you have with your children, and the joy they bring on a minute-to-minute, day-by-day basis — the idea that that's not there all the time is something that can hit me hard sometimes."

After losing a race in 2000, Barack Obama ran for Senate in 2004

In 2000, Barack Obama made a serious miscalculation that could have derailed his political career. He decided to challenge the very popular and well-known U.S. Representative Bobby Rush. The Miller Center points out that Obama was not super well known by voters, and Rush was enormously popular due to his time as a former Black Panther. In the end, Obama lost the race, which he could have seen as a big setback.

However, in 2004, Obama launched a Senate campaign in which he would claim a major victory. After defeating Republican Alan Keyes by the largest margin in any Illinois Senate race, Obama made it clear that he intended to go all the way (via the Chicago Tribune). Obama's exciting victory was definitely noticed by Democratic party insiders, and he was asked to deliver the keynote speech at the year's Democratic National Convention. 

In his speech that night, Obama offered a glimpse at the man many would come to know intimately in the next few years. While sticking to his theme of unity and togetherness, he said, "There's not a liberal America and a conservative America. There's a United States of America. There's not a Black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America. There's a United States of America" (per the Miller Center).

He announced his intention to run for president in 2007

Only three years after his Senate victory, Barack Obama made a big move: On February 10, 2007, he announced he planned to run for president of the United States. At the time, his subsequent presidential campaign was one of a kind. By launching his grassroots organization Obama for America, his team initially focused on two groups of people: those who voted for him during his 2004 Senate race and young voters who were hungry for significant change (via the Miller Center).

Obama's campaign wasn't taken too seriously by insiders and Democratic heavyweights (and opponents) John Edwards and Hillary Clinton at first, but after Obama's team managed to raise a significant amount of money, everyone began to pay closer attention to the young senator from Illinois. Obama's caucus win in Iowa was a massive turning point, and his later win in the year's South Carolina primary all but ensured his ultimate victory as the party's nominee.

In the end, the choice came down to Obama or Clinton, and the latter dropped out of the race in June 2008. This paved the way for Obama's historic victory.

Barack Obama was named the 44th president of the United States in 2008

To the delight of millions of people around the United States and the world, Barack Obama won the 2008 presidential election. His election was historic, as he was the first Black man to be named president of the United States. As Obama later shared in his book "A Promised Land," the days before the election were filled with sadness and grief (via The Guardian). Eight days before he was elected president, his grandmother died. He had spent a few days with her prior to her passing and was campaigning in North Carolina the night of her death. 

Obama celebrated his grandmother's life in his speech that night and then spent Election Day making calls, voting, and even playing basketball. The night he won, he sat next to his mother-in-law, an experience he recalled with wonder. He wrote that as results came in, he "tried to imagine what she must be thinking, having grown up just a few miles away during a time when there were still many Chicago neighborhoods that Blacks could not even safely enter."

Obama and his family later made their way to Grant Park for his victory speech. He noted that the night is seared in his mind, saying, "I can see in my mind even now some of the faces looking up as I walked onstage, men and women and children of every race, some wealthy, some poor, some famous and some not, some smiling ecstatically, others openly weeping."

He started a foundation following his presidency

After being reelected as the president of the United States in 2012, Barack Obama left office in 2016 and moved on to new experiences and efforts. While he founded the Obama Foundation in 2014, he became devoted to the foundation in earnest once he was no longer charged with running the United States. These days, the foundation supports a number of programs in addition to overseeing the operation of Obama's Presidential Library (per Forbes).

Obama also started work on the Obama Presidential Center in Chicago. The move was met with hesitation by some community organizers, who openly worried that establishing the center in the city's Jackson Park neighborhood would encourage further gentrification in the area. While Obama understood the concern, he explained to "Good Morning America" in 2021 that the team went through "an exhaustive process to encourage and elicit comments and concerns and criticism and suggestions from the community" (via ABC News).

Barack Obama is involved in numerous projects these days

Since leaving office, Barack Obama has devoted himself to a multitude of projects and organizations. Upon the conclusion of his time in office, both he and his wife, Michelle Obama, were offered a joint book deal that included a $65 million advance, and he went on the publish his memoir "A Promised Land" in November 2020 (via Vox).

In July 2021, Barack Obama's love for basketball intersected with his professional life when he joined NBA Africa as both a strategic partner and a minority owner. As explained by CNN, part of Barack's role in the organization will be to help create "programs and partnerships that support greater gender equality and economic inclusion" across the continent of Africa.

Barack and Michelle Obama have also inked a partnership with Netflix after entering into a years-long deal with the streaming service back in 2018. As explained by the company, the Obamas will be producing movies and series that will likely be "including scripted series, unscripted series, docu-series, documentaries, and features" (via Twitter).