The biography for President Obama and past presidents is courtesy of the White House Historical Association.
Barack Obama served as the 44th President of the United States. His story is the American story — values from the heartland, a middle-class upbringing in a strong family, hard work and education as the means of getting ahead, and the conviction that a life so blessed should be lived in service to others.
When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, he became the first African American to hold the office. The framers of the Constitution always hoped that our leadership would not be limited to Americans of wealth or family connections. Subject to the prejudices of their time—many of them owned slaves—most would not have foreseen an African American president. Obama’s father, Barack Sr., a Kenyan economist, met his mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, when both were students in Hawaii, where Barack was born on August 4, 1961. They later divorced, and Barack’s mother married a man from Indonesia, where he spent his early childhood. Before fifth grade, he returned to Honolulu to live with his maternal grandparents and attend Punahou School on scholarship.
In his memoir Dreams from My Father (1995), Obama describes the complexities of discovering his identity in adolescence. After two years at Occidental College in Los Angeles, he transferred to Columbia University, where he studied political science and international relations. Following graduation in 1983, Obama worked in New York City, then became a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, coordinating with churches to improve housing conditions and set up job-training programs in a community hit hard by steel mill closures. In 1988, he went to Harvard Law School, where he attracted national attention as the first African American president of the Harvard Law Review. Returning to Chicago, he joined a small law firm specializing in civil rights.
In 1992, Obama married Michelle Robinson, a lawyer who had also excelled at Harvard Law. Their daughters, Malia and Sasha, were born in 1998 and 2001, respectively. Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, and then to the U.S. Senate in 2004. At the Democratic National Convention that summer, he delivered a much acclaimed keynote address. Some pundits instantly pronounced him a future president, but most did not expect it to happen for some time. Nevertheless, in 2008 he was elected over Arizona Senator John McCain by 365 to 173 electoral votes.
As an incoming president, Obama faced many challenges—an economic collapse, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the continuing menace of terrorism. Inaugurated before an estimated crowd of 1.8 million people, Obama proposed unprecedented federal spending to revive the economy and also hoped to renew America’s stature in the world. During his first term he signed three signature bills: an omnibus bill to stimulate the economy, legislation making health care more accessible and affordable, and legislation reforming the nation’s financial institutions. Obama also pressed for a fair pay act for women, financial reform legislation, and efforts for consumer protection. In 2009, Obama became the fourth president to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 2012, he was reelected over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by 332 to 206 electoral votes. The Middle East remained a key foreign policy challenge. Obama had overseen the killing of Osama bin Laden, but a new self-proclaimed Islamic State arose during a civil war in Syria and began inciting terrorist attacks. Obama sought to manage a hostile Iran with a treaty that hindered its development of nuclear weapons. The Obama administration also adopted a climate change agreement signed by 195 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming.
In the last year of his second term, Obama spoke at two events that clearly moved him—the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, and the dedication of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. “Our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer,” he said in Selma. “And that’s why we celebrate,” he told those attending the museum opening in Washington, “mindful that our work is not yet done.”
Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, Michelle Obama never imagined that she’d become First Lady of the United States. She never imagined that one day, she would inspire people all around the world and drive historic change. As the daughter of a city water-pump operator and a stay-at-home mom, girls like her aren’t supposed to do any of that.
But Michelle Obama has spent her life challenging us to reconsider where that “supposed to” comes from — and who determines it. Her life shows us that you don’t have to look a certain way or act a certain way to fit in; you don’t have to make a lot of money or come from a certain group or class or faith in order to matter. Each of us can write our own story. And when we share those stories with one another, we can lift each other up along the way.
That’s why, as an author, Michelle speaks candidly about her experiences as a wife, mother, Black woman, and First Lady of the United States, telling her story in a way that empowers others to see the beauty in their own. Through her advocacy work, she strives to help young people see the power of their voice and the boundless promise inside of them. Through film and television, she elevates stories and storytellers who have too often been ignored. And as a co-founder of a children’s nutrition company, she’s aiming to help raise a healthier generation of children.
Our mission is to inspire, empower, and connect people to change their world. That mission begins at home, on the South Side of Chicago, where we are building the Obama Presidential Center. But it extends to all our work. The Obama Presidential Center will be a catalyst for long-overdue investment in and around Chicago’s historic Jackson Park—bringing 700,000 people to the South Side every year, creating a new destination to move visitors from hope to action, driving other development in the area, and creating job opportunities for Chicagoans, especially for residents on the South and West Sides. We believe the Obama Presidential Center should be built by a team that looks like the Center’s surrounding community, and we’re working hard to make sure that happens. We hope you’ll join us.
We need young people from every corner of this country who share a curiosity about the world and the conviction to want to make positive change within it—just like the scholarship’s founders. Students should have a passion for helping others, experience serving in or building community, and an expansive view of what’s possible through public service.
The Girls Opportunity Alliance seeks to empower and educate adolescent girls around the world, allowing them to achieve their full potential and transform their families, communities, and countries. Our goal is to use our platform to convene leaders, lift up grassroots organizations, and use public awareness to drive action on adolescent girls’ education and empowerment. The Girls Opportunity Alliance supports and welcomes organizations that serve adolescent girls of all gender expressions and identities.
The Barack Obama Foundation’s Leaders programs aim to inspire, empower and connect regional cohorts of changemakers to accelerate positive and lasting change in their communities and throughout their region.
To ensure all young people can reach their full potential, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance focuses on mobilizing mentors, reducing youth violence, and improving life outcomes for boys and young men of color.
The Obama Foundation Fellowship supports outstanding civic innovators from around the world in order to amplify the impact of their work and to inspire a wave of civic innovation.
The Obama Foundation Scholars Program gives rising young leaders around the world the opportunity to take their work to the next level through a curriculum that brings together academic, skills-based, and hands-on learning
The Girls Opportunity Alliance continues the work of First Lady Michelle Obama to empower adolescent girls around the world through education. Learn how you can directly support the grassroots leaders working to educate adolescent girls today
Created by President and Mrs. Obama and Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO, the Voyager Scholarship provides financial aid, horizon-expanding travel, and connections to a network of leaders to students pursuing public service.
As President Obama always says, the story of America is a story of progress, rooted in the great gift of our democracy—but we can’t afford to take either for granted. Both progress and our democracy itself are fragile. They depend on our constant engagement. And for all the true progress we have made together, there’s so much more we need to do to build an economy that’s fairer, a society that’s more just, a union that’s more perfect, and a democracy that not only weathers challenging times, but reflects changing ones. That’s why we’re bringing together leaders at this year’s Forum who are focused on cultivating a healthier discourse, building a more inclusive economy, reinvigorating institutions to encourage active citizenship, and promoting democratic culture around the world.
Today, technology is poised to fundamentally transform how we work, communicate, and connect in American society—and once again, our democracy hangs in the balance. At the 2024 Democracy Forum, President Obama will join activists, thought leaders, and changemakers to discuss the challenges that innovations like AI pose to economic and social inclusion, and what we can do about it. After all, when it comes to our democratic future, there’s no sideline to sit on.