Barack Obama in his first book Dreams from my Father – A story of Race and Inheritance takes his readers to a beautifully crafted journey of self-discovery. His first book was published over a decade ago and is recently re-published by Random House. It is a compelling story of not only race and culture inheritance but also of personal growth, human experience, life lessons and human nature. Obama tells his fantastic life story in a very thoughtful and reflective way. I feel this is a story of a very wisely examined life. The fact that readers, regardless of social background, cultural heritage or skin colour could find themselves in the story reminds me that as human beings as well we all share plenty of similarities and differences.
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About a few months ago in a very strange incident when the Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates stood on stages around the nation asking who was Barack Obama? They had a very easy access to their own question if they would have read “Dreams from my father”. If they would have read the story they wouldn’t have enough knowledge about the man who would serve as 44th president of the country but more about themselves as well.
The autobiography tells the story of the life of Barack Obama up to his admission in the Harvard Law School.
He was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to Barack Obama Sr. Of Kenya, a black African and Ann Dunham of Wichita, Kansas, a white American, who met as students at the University of Hawaii at Minoa. Obama’s parents separated from each other and got divorced in 1964, when Obama was just two years old, and the reason behind the divorce was Obama’s father went to Harvard to pursue his PhD but did not have money to take his family with him. Obama’s father later on returned to Africa to fulfil his promise to the continent. A kid without his father, Obama formed an imaginary image of his absent father from the stories told by his mother and his grandparents. He could see his father one more time in 1971 when Sr. Obama had come to Hawaii for a month long official visit, without knowing death could be just a few away. Obama’s father died in a car accident after 11 years in 1982.
After the divorce Obama’s mother remarried to Lolo Soetro an East-West Centre student from Indonesia, and then moved to Jakarta. When Obama was just ten years, he returned to Hawaii to get better educational opportunities available in Hawaii, under the care of his grandparents and later his mother. He was enrolled at Punahou School, a private college-preparatory school, in fifth grade where he was on of the only six black students at the mostly white school. Obama attended the school from the 5th grade until his graduation in 1979. Obama in his 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.” In the school Obama met Ray who introduced him to the African American community.
After finishing high school, Obama moved to Los Angeles, where he enrolled at Occidental College, he describes his life there to be a “party” lifestyle with the drug and alcohol use. After two years of his party life at Occidental, he transferred himself to Columbia college at Columbia University, in Manhattan, New York, where he majored in political science. After graduation, he started a business for a year, which did not go very well, he then moved to Chicago there he worked for a non-profit community organizing in the Altgeld Gardens housing project on the South side of the city. He recounts the difficulty of the experience, as his program faced resistance from apathy on the part of the established bureaucracy and entrenched community leaders. During this time Obama first visited the Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ only to be motivate himself to do something grand in his life.
Obama decided to visit his relatives in Kenya before joining the Harvard Law School. Obama uses the experience Kenya to be the setting for his book’s final emotional scene. Relating the story with Obama’s life the book includes a great deal of reflection on his own personal racial experiences with the Americans in the United States.
A FEW RACISM FACTS
“I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of 12 or 13, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites” – this is a quote from the introduction in the book ” Dreams from my Father”. This gives the very first glimpse of the racial discrimination and racial issues faced by Barack Obama right from the age of 12 or 13. Obama still had the thrive to continue and achieve everything that he aimed for.
“There was something about him that made me wary, a little too sure of himself, maybe. And white”. This is during the time when he describes a job interview with a man in Chicago. It seemed that race had been a part of their discussion as the white had a certain air about himself seeing Obama being a black, but instead of getting de motivated and upset about the behaviour from the white Obama took it as an opportunity and showed what his true talent was. And at the end he was able to win the person, which was one of his many passions.
“It remained necessary to prove which side you were on, to show your loyalty to the black masses, to strike out and name names.” Obama discusses this part of his life when he talks about his childhood and his schooldays in Hawaii. Though having a white mother Obama faced too many racial discriminations in his school days, which made him vulnerable to the whites.
“I never emulate white men and brown men whose fates didn’t speak to my own. It was into my father’s image, the black man, son of Africa, that I’d packed all the attributes I sought in myself, the attributes of Martin and Malcolm, Dubois and Mandela.” This statement shows that though being a black, Barack Obama did not get emulated with his fate to have born a black, he made it his strength and walked ahead instead of walking backwards and run away from the hardships.
Despite having faced so many incidences of racial discrimination and underlying authority Barack Obama had only one thing that was unbitten and that was his never dying spirit and courage and this is what i think undoubtedly defines his leadership quality.
Recently I happened to read an article on leadership qualities and how is a person fit to become a leader. To test the article I decided to experiment with few of my friends, on a casual discussion I asked them “who do you think can be a leader?” to my amazement the entire discussion turned into an argument whether a leader is born or made. Later on after giving the entire argument much thought I decided to jot down few of the qualities of a leader I could figure out during the discussion.
The first thing that I noticed was during the entire conversation there was one friend who did not even attempt to get into the conversation, later when asked he said ” I don’t think that’s even a discussion, it was so pointless, I’d rather spend my time reading Barack Obama then deciding whether a leader is born or made it is always going to be debatable”, that’s when I realised that a true leader never gives too much time to such discussions he rather concentrates more on developing his own leadership qualities which he thinks are necessary for his success. One of the other things that I noticed was in a group there’s always a person who leads the discussion, gives it a proper flow and concludes it, this group had a leader as well, but the quality i noticed here was a leader always has followers, you take the case of Hitler, Mussolini, Barack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi anyone in that case, they are perfect examples of Leadership and one thing that is common among all of them is they all had their own set of followers. Which I think is one of the biggest qualities of a leader, what is the point of leading a group when you do not have anyone to follow?
Summarizing the entire incident i could come up with Five qualities that a leader possesses. They are as follows:
A leader should be
Clarity in thought
Now the important job for a leader is to display his skills or the five qualities mentioned above and at the same time inspiring people to follow. Below is a story of a great leader who doesn’t have a name in history, hasn’t made it big yet she is a motivation, a role model and has all the qualities for an entrepreneur mentioned above.
How often do you get a chance to motivate? How often do you get a chance to touch people’s lives and make them better?
Well i just came across a teacher who made it all possible, they called her Miss G.
Miss G was a happy, and a fun loving human being, happily married and a perfect husband made her confident, and lively. She came from a political background and as her father she too wanted to do something for the society, she had tried a couple of things already but somehow did not interest her, or rather the work did not approve her, not getting de motivated Miss G joins the Long Island school, Long Beach to try her hands on teaching, little has she thought of what she was getting into, she would have had night mares before step forward to take the job. Her father did not approve of her becoming a teacher, he thought it was too low a profile to work in, she didn’t pay attention to it, as she knew she would be able to make her father agree to her choice eventually.
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She started off her first day as a teacher with a group of students majorly African Americans, who were engaged in gang wars, drugs, fighting etc. She had a hard time even talking to them as they had a typical attitude to the way they lived. They were freshmen at school and obviously hated the fact. The first day she experienced the enmity amongst the students with the issue being the “colour” of their skin. She has a hard time controlling their fights, but gets hold of it eventually. When she walks out after the school she sees that the “whites” are on one side of the ground and the “black” on the other none of them even bothered to interact with the other “colour”. The very next day she mixes the different “colour” students within the class to break the ice amongst themselves. That doesn’t work very well as many of them feel offended of their colour and stop coming to the class.
She tries to figure out for days together what is it that is stopping 13 year kids to talk to each other and discriminate amongst each other due to their colour in modern America. And one day something happens that teaches her the real reason, a boy gets killed by one of the whites just because he was black, she learns the fact that one of her students called Eva was also involved in the incident. She wanted to confront the girl about it but was warned by the administration of the school to not to do so as it was against the policy of the school. She still tries to confront and learns that the “blacks” are ill-treated by the American cops for no reason, they were bitten up, shot and jailed just for being a “black”. Miss G didn’t realise what to say when she was confronted with a truth like this.
She knew the students wouldn’t speak to her directly in the class, but she wanted them to take all their pain and sufferings out so that she could heal them and make them better human beings, because she knew, she had hope in them that they weren’t as bad as they were made out to be. She then came up with this really amazing idea of making them keep their journal, she asked them to write any of their experiences that were close to her heart. She told them she wouldn’t read their journal unless and until they would allow her to. She offered them a closet to leave their journals if they wanted her to read them. And to her surprise everyone wrote in their journals and left them behind for her to read it.
The administration of the school was strictly against all the activities that she was doing and wouldn’t support her or help her even with the material she required for the class. Miss G didn’t give up on the kids, she worked double jobs just so that she could provide them with the materials that they needed. But in all of this her personal life, her happy marriage had started to go on the rough track. Thus she was losing support both from her working environment as well as her husband. But with her determination and passion to make a difference to those kids’ lives, she continues to teach with all the hurdles and difficulties that she was facing.
With all the efforts she was putting in she succeeded in making the class room a home for all the kids she was teaching. Her husband left her, the administration didn’t agree with her efforts and the people around her tried every possible way to de motivate her. But she was a “warrior princess” despite having an emotional breakdown, the threat to lose the job, no home she never gave up or rather never bowed to the situations, she kept fighting.
During the entire mess up she was going through for the first time her motivating force was her father. Her father told her “I am jealous of what my daughter is being able to do, she did what I had dreamt for myself”, which I think in itself is a driving force for any individual. And with the warrior she was this just added to her strength.
She motivated the kids to keep their own journals, this time she motivated them to convert their journals into books. The kids already following the footsteps of their teacher readily agreed to it, and after months of rigorous work they came up with their own individual books with their own stories. Their own stories of struggle and their own stories of survival, she had succeeded.
This motivated Miss G to write her own book for the kids and the experience with them. She amazingly called them “the freedom writers”.
It is not necessary that you make it big if you are an entrepreneur, it is not necessary that the world should know what a big personality are you. The satisfaction comes from within.
One if the question that i came across while reading the book was “why doesn’t everyone have a name in history? What is so special about the people who have made it big?” the answer to the question was “their intelligence”. Imagine what if everyone had the same wavelength, what if everyone was as intelligent as Mr Narayan Murthi of Infosys, Mr Warren Buffet the investor, Mr Bill Gates of Microsoft, there would be a new Infosys and Microsoft coming up every day in every different corner of the world. There wouldn’t have been any uniqueness in their ventures. Thus intelligence plays a vital role in what you do.
Intelligence plays a vital role in what you do but intelligence without clarity of thought cannot be put to the best use. Imagine Bill Gates having an idea of launching Microsoft but doesn’t know where, when and how, i think without a clear vision he wouldn’t have been able to do any of it.
And lastly having a vision of where you want to be sums up to all the things that are needed to be a leader.
Thus a mixture of an intelligent, forward looking and clear minded individual makes it to be the best leader.
Whether it’s Miss G or Barack Obama, both of them had their own share of hardships and struggles one thing that kept them going was their never say NO attitude to life. This is what has made them a leader, an entrepreneur and a satisfied human.
At the end of the day it is not what you do or what you make out of what you’re doing, it is the learning that life offers for the present and the future.
“Lions sleep 18 hours a day – if hard work alone was the secret to success, then donkey would have been the king of the jungle”.
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