The autobiographical narrative tells the story of the life of Obama up to his entry in Harvard Law School.

He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Barack Obama, Sr. of Kenya, and Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansas, both students at that time at the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Obama's parents separated when he was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama formed an image of his absent father from stories told by his mother and her parents. He saw his father only one more time, in 1971, when Obama Sr. came to Hawaii for a month's visit.[1] The elder Obama died in a car accident in 1982.[2] After her divorce, Ann Dunham married Lolo Soetoro, an East-West Center student from Indonesia. The family moved to Jakarta. When Obama was ten, he returned to Hawaii under the care of his grandparents (and later his mother) for the better educational opportunities available there. He was enrolled in the fifth grade at Punahou School, a private collegepreparatory school. Obama was one of three Black students among the majority AsianAmerican population at that school,[3] and he first became conscious of racism and what it means to be an African-American. Obama attended Punahou School from the 5th grade until his graduation in 1979. Obama writes: "For my grandparents, my admission into Punahou Academy heralded the start of something grand, an elevation in the family status that they took great pains to let everyone know." There he also met Ray (Keith Kakugawa), who introduced him to the African American community.[4] Upon finishing high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles, where he enrolled at Occidental College, where he describes living a "party" lifestyle of drug and alcohol use.[5][6][7] After two years at Occidental, he transferred to Columbia College at Columbia University, in Manhattan, New York City, where he majored in political science.[7] Upon graduation, he worked for a year in business. He then moved to Chicago, working for a non-profit doing community organizing in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the city's South Side. Obama recounts the difficulty of the experience, as his program faced resistance from entrenched community leaders and apathy on the part of the established bureaucracy. It was during his time spent here that Obama joined Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.[7] Before attending Harvard Law School, Obama decided to visit relatives in Kenya. He uses part of his experience there as the setting for the book's final, emotional scene. As well as relating the story of Obama's life, the book includes a good deal of reflection on his own personal experiences with race and race relations in the United States.

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