The city of Charlottesville has been at the center of global news this week, unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. During last Saturday’s tragedy, participants at a right-wingers, white-supremacists rally and counter-demonstrators were caught in a violent clash in Charlottesville, Virginia. Former U.S. President Barack Obama sent a loud and clear message against the hatemongers through his now-historic tweets quoting former South African President Nelson Mandela. Obama tweeted, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion… People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love… For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Former journalist and Proud Boys member Jason Kessler organized a “Unite the Right” rally among white supremacists to protest the removal of Confederate icon General Robert E. Lee’s statue. On August 12th, unarmed counter-demonstrators arrived at the scheduled protest. A clash ensued between both sides. Violence broke out when white supremacist, James Alex Fields Jr., drove a car through a crowd of counter-demonstrators. He killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured 19 others. Witnesses indicated that they could hear bones crunching.
Barack Obama’s Poignant Message
Obama’s poignant tweets found an unprecedented wave of support. With more than 4.2 million likes and still counting, his tweets have now become the most liked tweets in the history of Twitter. One of his tweets shows Obama smiling at children of different races.
A Multicultural Childhood
Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii. His mother, Ann Dunham, and father, Barack Obama, Sr., met at the University of Hawaii when they were students. His Caucasian mother was raised in Kansas whereas his father was a Kenyan studying in the U.S. Obama’s father left when he was only two and went back to Kenya after completing his graduate studies at Harvard University. His mother would eventually marry Barack’s stepfather, Indonesian Lolo Soetoro. The new family spent a year in Jakarta, Indonesia before Barack’s mother decided to send Obama back to Hawaii, where he would live with his grandparents.
Throughout his childhood, Obama shuttled between two countries — Indonesia and the U.S. His parents moved back to Indonesia when Barack turned six. It was in Indonesia that he attended both Muslim and Catholic schools. He recalls being raised as an Indonesian child, a Hawaiian child, a black, and a white child. He admits benefiting from his childhood’s multiplicity of cultures, religions, and ethnicities. All this shaped his young mind to be accommodating, embracing, and appreciating differences.
This multicultural background challenged Obama at a young age. His mother insisted that he take English correspondence classes, which required waking up early for him to master the language. When his mother decided to move him back to Hawaii, he had to live with his grandparents before the rest of the family joined him.
Dealing with Racism at a Young Age
He studied at Punahou Academy under the care of his grandparents. Although he graduated with academic honors and balanced this with basketball, he was one of the few black students in the school. This heightened his awareness of racism, along with the reconciliation between his multiracial heritage and his self-identity. He once wrote, “I went into the bathroom and stood in front of the mirror with all my senses and limbs seemingly intact, looking as I had always looked, and wondered if something was wrong with me.”
He eventually left Hawaii and began at the Occidental College in Los Angeles. Obama finished his political science degree at Columbia University. He started his career as a community organizer in Chicago’s poor South Side.
Working for the community’s impoverished residents immersed him into the lives of African Americans. He was in charge of launching a church-funded Developing Communities Project to improve a public housing initiative. But the project met little success and made him realize he could do more with a law degree.
Entering the Political Arena
This self-revelation spurred Obama to attend Harvard Law School in 1988. During his second year, he joined constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe’s team as a research assistant. Tribe praises Obama not only for his academic success but also for his drive to make a difference in communities. He also joined Sidley Austin’s Chicago law firm as a summer associate. This was where he met his future wife Michelle Robinson. In 1990, Obama became the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review before he graduated magna cum laude.
To add to his academic accomplishments, he ascended quickly in the world of politics. He ran and won under the Democrat party for a seat in the Illinois State Senate in 1996. His policies focused on expanding health care services and early childhood education for the impoverished. Obama dealt with the Republican majority in the state Senate, adapting to the political tactics from the opposing party. He dealt with both parties’ legislators accordingly, resulting in 300 bills that focused on improved health care, helping children, and labor unions. He showed the true spirit of a leader by constantly striving to improve upon the core areas that affect the public.
Rising from Defeats to Victory
His ascension to the presidency wasn’t easy. In 2000, he lost against Bobby Rush in the Democratic primary run for the U.S. House of Representatives. This did not stop him from raising funds for a Senate seat in 2004. He won with 52 percent of the vote against Blair Hull and Daniel Hynes. His victory continued against Republic nominee Jack Ryan.
In 2008, he became the first African American president of the most powerful free nation in the world. During his presidency, he dealt with economic meltdown of historical proportion — the Great Recession — and two festering wars. He faced pressure to increase jobs and reduce national debt. Some of his major accomplishments include tax cuts for working families and small businesses, the stimulus bill for economic growth, and health care insurance expansion. His term also signed in the Affordable Care Act, drastically changed the U.S.’ foreign policy, and the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy.
He was re-elected in 2012 against Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
Overcoming More Challenges
His domestic policies were highly challenged by the opposing party. The federal government shutdown for 16 days when the Republicans expressed their desire to defund the Affordable Care Act, which adversely impacted insurance policies for millions of Americans. Yet, he took personal ownership for the shutdown and apologized to the public.
Under his administration, the Clean Power Plan was approved in 2015, which aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit carbon pollution.
Obama’s humble beginnings and rise to the White House as the first African American U.S. President are testaments to the spirit of Strive. Obama’s perseverance, humility, discretion, determination, and diplomacy as President of the United States demonstrates the qualities of Strive. Even out of office, he continues to exercise world-class leadership and restraint. How are you striving? Sign up to be notified when the Strive book becomes available.