Barack Obama’s Zero-To-Hero Story

Barack Obama (Photo: Nick Knupffer)

Before he became the first African-American president in history, then-senator Barack Obama wrote the story of his improbable journey in the best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.

Obama would model this hopeful vision as he rose to the presidency on the wings of the popular, uniting optimism he inspired, breathing new life into the American Dream.

Barack Obama became the change he wanted to see against all odds, coming to terms with his unstable childhood in a mixed-race household to embrace his identity as an African-American and to clear a path for a future beyond politics as usual.

In his continued struggle to bring about positive change in adverse political conditions, Obama stands for the transformative power of a tenacious belief in what is possible.

The Hero's Struggles - Struggling With Identity

Barack Hussein Obama was born August 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, where his parents, Kansas-born Ann Dunham and Barack Obama, Sr., originally from Kenya, had met while studying at the University of Hawaii. These multicultural origins stacked the cards against the future president of the United States.

Obama would also have to overcome the insecurity of his uprooted childhood and his abandonment by his father. His parents separated when he was 2, and after living briefly with his mother in Indonesia (where she remarried and gave birth to a second child, Barack’s half-sister), he was moved back to Hawaii where he would have a safer home and better educational opportunities with his grandparents.

As one of only three black students at Punahou Academy, Obama developed racial consciousness at an early age as he struggled with his own multiracial identity.

The absence of his father weighed heavy on him at this time, and deepened as a result of two tragic car accidents in 1981 and 1982--the first costing Obama, Sr. his lower legs, his mobility, and his job, and the second taking his life. 21-year-old Barack had to navigate his adult life without ever knowing his father as a man.

The Hero’s Journey to Success - Striving To Make an Impact

Through his education and service, Obama worked his way up to a position of influence. He transferred from Occidental College in Los Angeles to Columbia University in New York, where he graduated in 1983 with a degree in political science.

After working in business for two years, Obama changed course completely, following his passion for social justice to the South Side of Chicago, where he began serving as a community organizer for low-income residents.

He left Chicago in 1988 when he started Harvard Law School, but after graduating with top honors in 1991, he returned to the South Side to work as a civil rights lawyer.

This determination to have an even greater impact is what propelled Obama up the political ladder. Through his tireless work as an advocate, Obama earned local support to run as a Democrat for the Illinois State Senate in 1996, and despite being a newcomer, he won.

His next career move, his first attempt to enter national politics, would not meet with such success: Obama ran against the long-time incumbent in the 2000 U.S. House of Representatives race, and he lost the primary. But Obama faced this defeat with resilience: he organized a grassroots campaign for a 2004 Senate seat run.

Meanwhile, Obama used his minor position as a state senator from Illinois to earn national public recognition and support. He spoke out against the mainstream as an early critic of the Iraq War.

Standing out in his opposition, Obama managed to defeat multimillion-dollar candidates to win the U.S. Senate seat in 2004 by the largest margins in Illinois history. He became only the third African-American to hold a U.S. Senate seat.

The Hero’s Success - Proving Himself for the Presidency

In 2007, Obama had to defend his inexperience against a political dynasty, going head-to-head with former first lady and then New York Senator Hilary Clinton to win the Democratic nomination. He also won the Clintons’ full support in his battle with Republican nominee, John McCain, whose record of service in war and politics cast a long shadow over Obama’s freshman status.

By embodying change, Obama rallied voters to reclaim politics, to voice their belief in what is possible, and with his slogan, “Yes We Can” ringing out across the nation, he was elected the 44th president of the United States and the first African-American president in history.

Despite the disappointment of high expectations, entrenched and enflamed resistance to his social government line, and an endless succession of domestic and global crises, Obama was reelected as president for a second term in 2012, defeating Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

Obama continues to face prejudical treatment because of his ethnic heritage and unrelenting, often uncivil backlash against his policy decisions, but he responds to this negative climate with a steadfast tone of positivity.

Lessons From Obama's Story

Obama’s legacy is yet to be determined by history, but his life story has already planted seeds of hope for generations to come. Driven by a purpose with absolute clarity, Obama forged his own way, refusing to see his background as a barrier, to become a force of change.

Can anyone find and pursue such a clear, inspiring purpose?

Yes, we can.

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