Spotlight: Barack Obama-The Orlando Times
Black History Month Spotlight
Barack Obama: A History Maker
BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
The former president, the first Black president, a president for the people, your president. Regardless of preferred title, it is certain that Barack Hussein Obama has continued the mission started by civil rights activists in the mid 1950s, while creating a legacy of his own.
Raised on the island of Hawaii, he was born on August 4, 1961 and spent a majority of his childhood between Hawaii with his mother and grandparents and Indonesia.
After graduating from Punahou School in Honolulu in 1979, he attended Columbia University in New York. He enrolled in Harvard Law School, where he became an attorney, later a law professor and the first Black President of the Harvard Law review.
As a young man he spent a majority of his time between Massachusetts and Illinois. Being exposed to the southside of Chicago taught him the grim realities of Black life in the inner city.
After a historic race against Alan Keyes, he won his first campaign and became an Illinois State Senator.
He began building a name for himself by dealing with Chicago’s various issues of unemployment, rampant violence, and police brutality. However, in 2004 his political career saw a huge shift when he rose in popularity following a speech at the Democratic National Convention.
On February 10, 2007, in Illinois, he announced that he would be seeking the office of President of the United States.
On August 23, 2008 he announced that Joe Biden would be running alongside him as his Vice President. A partnership that would become an iconic friendship in the eyes of the nation. A few days later he gave his acceptance speech at the democratic national convention at Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver.
When Obama first assumed leadership he faced steep debt, the closure of auto manufacturers, on-going wars, and a population the lacked proper medical insurance. In addition, he was confronted with heavy personal criticisms from the public, including questions of his Presidential legitimacy, his birthplace, his work ethic, and his decision making. Nevertheless, he helped to reinstitute the auto companies, ended the war in Iraq and created one of the staples of his presidency, Obamacare.
During his first term in office he signed an executive order closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, implemented a $787 Billion Stimulus Package, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and more.
As for his second term he commuted sentences of non-violent prisoners, pardoning many, reopened dialogue with Cuba, all whilst dealing with multiple national crises including the Ebola outbreak and stirring trouble with Syria.
Meanwhile, Michelle Obama brought her own agenda and proposals to the White House. The main policy that she advocated for involved healthy eating, she worked with the president on ensuring that youths across America had greater access to healthier food alternatives. Meeting while in law school in the 1980s, the Princeton educated scholar and Harvard trained attorney worked alongside her husband in both his personal and political life. A skilled speaker she has spoken at both Democratic National Conventions and at Black Girls Rock. Her speeches are often stand-outs from the events she attends.
The couple has two children, 19-year old Malia and 16-year old Sasha. Their oldest daughter, interned at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, Spain over the summer of 2016 and currently attends Harvard University. Sasha is a current student at Washington D. C’s the Sidwell Friends School and will graduate in 2019.
The Obamas have continued to make strides in various fields since spending their last day in the White House on January 20, 2017.
Penguin Random House is set to publish coming books by the former president and first lady.
It is not yet known whether the books will be memoirs, but it said that Obama kept a journal during his time in office, which could provide moments that were captured as major events unfolded.
These will not be the first books this power couple has had published.
M. Obama wrote the book “American Grown,” about the White House garden. While, B. Obama has three books — “Dreams From My Father,” “The Audacity of Hope” and “Of Thee I Sing” — which had critical and monetary success.
At a time in which the new presidential administration is trying to impede on his legacy, these books could provide an opportunity to reframe his time in office.
Recently, the official portraits of B. Obama and M. Obama were revealed during the 50th anniversary celebration of The National Portrait Gallery.
The Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution, owns a collection of presidential likenesses.
However, this new addition continues Obama’s legacy of making history. Not only are the Obamas the first African-American presidential couple to be featured in the collection, but the painters commissioned— Kehinde Wiley, for B. Obama’s portrait and Amy Sherald, for M. Obama — are African-American as well. Both artists are known for addressing the politics of race in their work.
Wiley presents the former president sitting in a chair surrounded with flowers, dressed in a black suit with a white shirt. The nearly seven foot tall, highly detailed portrait strongly resembles Obama as he sits forward, his arms crossed with a focused expression.
The flowers in the painting are African blue lilies representing Kenya, his father’s birthplace; jasmine stands for Hawaii, his birthplace; chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago, references the city where his political life began.
As for M. Obama, she is shown sitting against a light blue background, wearing a flowing white gown with black, yellow, pink, and red accents.
As for his continued interest in politics, Obama is joining a national effort to address redistricting concerns. The National Democratic Restricting Committee, a group led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, plans on traveling to red and swing states to help Democratic candidates campaigning on the issue.
The states the group plans on visiting include: Florida, Georgia, Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio.
The legacy of Obama and his family will continue to grow as time passes. His contributions to the nation and the African-American community have secured his place in the hearts and minds of many.