family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. As a teenager, Obama returned to Hawaii to live with his grandparents and attended one of the island’s top prep schools. He was a lone black child raised by his white mother and grandparents. But he gained the ability to connect with people from various national, cultural, and racial backgrounds. “I grew up with whites and blacks and Asians within my own family and surrounding communities. It’s an enormous advantage in an America that is changing everyday in that it requires us to work together across racial, cultural, and ethnic lines,” Obama says. “But I was affected by the problems that I think a lot of young African American teens have; they feel that they need to rebel against society as a way of proving their blackness. And often, this results in self-destructive behavior. I’ve written about the fact that when I was in high school, I experimented with drugs and I played a lot of sports, but didn’t take my studies particularly seriously. But I was fortunate to have a foundation and values from my family that helped me to overcome some of those destructive attitudes.”
Although he always considered himself a good student in high school, Obama says he didn’t get serious about his scholarship until his third year in college, when he transferred to Columbia University in New York. Filled with political idealism, he became a community organizer in Harlem after graduation. But he couldn’t afford to stay in New York City on his salary. When he decided to leave Harlem, he wrote to organizations across the country looking for work and received only a single reply from a church-based group in Chicago that was trying to help residents of poor South Side neighborhoods cope with a wave of plant closings—an experience that would begin to shape Obama’s political career.
Three years later, he left the church organization to attend Harvard Law School, and in 1990, he became the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. Armed with a law degree that matched the likes of Fortune 500 leaders, Obama could have designed a high-powered legal or corporate career. He turned down an opportunity to clerk with a chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C., circuit and jobs working for prestigious Wall Street law firms. Instead, he returned to Chicago to practice civil rights law, representing victims of housing and employment discrimination and working on voting rights legislation for small public interest firms. He later started teaching at the University of Chicago Law School but did not pursue a tenure-track post. He decided to go into politics.
When Obama announced his intention to run for U.S. Senate, he had already built a solid track record on issues affecting working-class families. He expanded a program to provide healthcare to Illinois children. He wrote and passed a law that gives $100 million in tax breaks to working-class families. He wrote and passed landmark legislation to end racial profiling among