Barack Obama was born at the Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Stanley Ann Dunham, a White American from Wichita, Kansas. Obama's father was Barack Obama, Sr., a Luo from Nyang’oma Kogelo, Nyanza Province, Kenya. His parents met in 1960 while attending the University of Hawaii at Mānoa, where his father was a foreign student. The couple married on February 2, 1961; they separated when Obama was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama's father returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before dying in an automobile accident in 1982.
After her divorce, Dunham married Indonesian student Lolo Soetoro, who was attending college in Hawaii. When Soeharto, a military leader in Soetoro's home country, came to power in 1967, all students studying abroad were recalled and the family moved to Indonesia. There Obama attended local schools in Jakarta, such as Besuki Public School and St. Francis of Assisi School, until he was ten years old.
He then returned to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents, Madelyn and Stanley Armour Dunham, while attending Punahou School from the fifth grade in 1971 until his graduation from high school in 1979. Obama's mother returned to Hawaii in 1972 for five years, and then in 1977 went back to Indonesia, where she worked as an anthropological field worker. She stayed there most of the rest of her life, returning to Hawaii in 1994. She died of ovarian cancer in 1995.
Right-to-left: Barack Obama and half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, with their mother Ann Dunham and grandfather Stanley Dunham, in Hawaii (early 1970s).Of his early childhood, Obama has recalled, "That my father looked nothing like the people around me — that he was black as pitch, my mother white as milk — barely registered in my mind." In his 1995 memoir, he described his struggles as a young adult to reconcile social perceptions of his multiracial heritage. He wrote that he used alcohol, marijuana and cocaine during his teenage years to "push questions of who I was out of my mind." At the 2008 Civil Forum on the Presidency, Obama identified his high-school drug use as his "greatest moral failure."
Some of his fellow students at Punahou School later told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that Obama was mature for his age, and that he sometimes attended college parties and other events in order to associate with African American students and military service people. Reflecting later on his formative years in Honolulu, Obama wrote: "The opportunity that Hawaii offered — to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect — became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear."
Following high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles, where he studied at Occidental College for two years. He then transferred to Columbia University in New York City, where he majored in political science with a specialization in international relations. Obama graduated with a B.A. from Columbia in 1983. He worked for a year at the Business International Corporation and then at the New York Public Interest Research Group.
After four years in New York City, Obama moved to Chicago, where he was hired as director of the Developing Communities Project (DCP), a church-based community organization originally comprising eight Catholic parishes in Greater Roseland (Roseland, West Pullman and Riverdale) on Chicago's far South Side. He worked there for three years from June 1985 to May 1988. During his three years as the DCP's director, its staff grew from one to thirteen and its annual budget grew from $70,000 to $400,000. His achievements included helping set up a job training program, a college preparatory tutoring program, and a tenants' rights organization in Altgeld Gardens. Obama also worked as a consultant and instructor for the Gamaliel Foundation, a community organizing institute. In mid-1988, he traveled for the first time to Europe for three weeks and then for five weeks in Kenya, where he met many of his paternal relatives for the first time.
Obama entered Harvard Law School in late 1988. He was selected as an editor of the Harvard Law Review at the end of his first year, and president of the journal in his second year. During his summers, he returned to Chicago where he worked as a summer associate at the law firms of Sidley & Austin in 1989 and Hopkins & Sutter in 1990. After graduating with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) magna cum laude from Harvard in 1991, he returned to Chicago.
Obama's election as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review gained national media attention and led to a publishing contract and advance for a book about race relations. In an effort to recruit him to their faculty, the University of Chicago Law School provided Obama with a fellowship and an office to work on his book. He originally planned to finish the book in one year, but it took much longer as the book evolved into a personal memoir. In order to work without interruptions, Obama and his wife, Michelle, traveled to Bali where he wrote for several months. The manuscript was finally published in mid-1995 as Dreams from My Father.
From April to October 1992, Obama directed Illinois's Project Vote, a voter registration drive with a staff of ten and seven hundred volunteers; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African Americans in the state, and led to Crain's Chicago Business naming Obama to its 1993 list of "40 under Forty" powers to be.
For twelve years, Obama served as a professor at the University of Chicago Law School teaching Constitutional Law. He was first classified as a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996 and then as a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004. He also joined Davis, Miner, Barnhill & Galland, a twelve-attorney law firm specializing in civil rights litigation and neighborhood economic development, where he was an associate for three years from 1993 to 1996, then of counsel from 1996 to 2004, with his law license becoming inactive in 2002.
Obama was a founding member of the board of directors of Public Allies in 1992, resigning before his wife, Michelle, became the founding executive director of Public Allies Chicago in early 1993. He served from 1994 to 2002 on the board of directors of the Woods Fund of Chicago, which in 1985 had been the first foundation to fund the Developing Communities Project, and also from 1994 to 2002 on the board of directors of the Joyce Foundation. Obama served on the board of directors of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge from 1995 to 2002, as founding president and chairman of the board of directors from 1995 to 1999. He also served on the board of directors of the Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, and the Lugenia Burns Hope Center.