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Barack Obama's First Book

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Message Margaret Bassett
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    Barack Obama sure has a lot of family, which seems to work for them and him.  In the mind of an American social worker, it might be called “dysfunctional.”  The book “Dreams from M y Father” is interesting and very well written.  I checked out the 2004 edition, meaning the 1995 edition with a twelve-page epilogue to explain his marriage and his run for the Senate.  
    Somewhere he expressed his disappointment that it originally didn’t sell too well and he concluded he would never make a living being a writer.  He writes so interestingly.  All I can say is that he has to be grateful for those early morning studies his mama insisted on while they were in Indonesia.  It made him able to keep up with the studies in a prep school in Hawaii where he returned to live with his maternal grandparents.  While there, his father visited them when Barry was nine.  Since he was only two when Barack Sr. left them, it was the only time he remembers seeing him.  With the lessons in English, his mother also gave a full picture of what a great man he father was in Kenya.  
    I wanted to see what the Senator’s platform was on education and of course he has one.  However, it’s more likely that life experiences and stateside college is his reference.  What stuck out was his determination to find what he needed to know when he needed to know it.  Born in August 1961, he would have been 21 when he received his B.A. degree from Columbia.  These were years when he was not sure how he fit.  Too young to have experienced the active years of the Civil Rights Movement and being in New York City during a time when there was racial ferment, he was forced to determine just where he fit in an America when he lived always as an outsider.  His conclusion was to become a community organize and ended up working with residents of a housing project in Chicago.  Altgeld Gardens was his beat and had been left in a backwater of the South Side, where industry moved away.  His three years on the job coincided with the administration of Harold Washington, who became Chicago’s first black mayor in 1983.  It was during this time, that Barack learned the intricacies of big city politics.  
    Harold Washington was a graduate of Roosevelt University, which made his fellow alumni proud, including me.  He died young shortly after his reelection in 1987.  Obama worked with a church-sponsored group and learned how organizing was done.  According to articles I’ve referenced, it’s clear he studied the impact of earlier activists--not just Jessie Jackson with his Operation PUSH but also Saul Alinski, whose techniques were more confrontational than what worked for Obama.  At the end of about three years, he had made good connections with black churches, including the one he joined, Trinity United Church of Christ at 95th Street.  He recognized he would need a law degree and applied to Harvard.  Before enrolling he made a stake in New York City in order to take his trip to Kenya.  His father was dead.  One half-sister Auma and he became acquainted when she visited him in Chicago.  After studying in Germany, she returned to Kenya to become a professor.  
    Before beginning his legal studies at Harvard, he visited his half brothers and sisters, as well as wives, siblings and parents of Barack Obama, Sr. .  It’s really a loving story of what happens when a young Kenyan, his father, becomes educated  in the US and then returns home to live in the polygamist society their Luo tribe ascribed to.  Barack Jr.’s mother declined to go with him.  She was a part of his life and that of his sister’s whose father was Indonesian.  It took many visits to various huts with the help of Auma to sort out the family relationships.   Much of the description he used is similar to the complexities of family life in the Chicago Housing Authority project.  
    He entered Harvard Law School in 1988.  When US newspapers profiled him as the first black president of its Law Review, he decided to write the book.  And most of his activities after returning to Chicago are well chronicled.  
    It would be easy for me to say he has a handle on the complexities of wage and education disparities, and therefore would be able to handle domestic questions which beg for answers.  I left Chicago, for example, five years before he arrived, and already the Rust Belt was changing economics.  The job I had at Spiegel on 35th Street took flight to new western Interstate suburbs.  Some of the students I taught, quite a few directly from projects, may have been able to afford cars and follow the tech crowd to new offices.  
    A friend, who taught in the Chicago Public School system, has kept me informed of what has happened in most recent years, where apparently the black middle class has been able to take advantage of a resurgence in home ownership.  Even as I think of progress, I realize that international commerce dictates what happens in the US just as it does in Africa.  If one believes early experiences make a large part of presidential capabilities, which I’m inclined to go along with, perhaps Carolyn Kennedy knows what she’s talking about. 


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Margaret Bassett passed away August 21, 2011. She was a treasured member of the editorial team for four years.

Margaret Bassett--OEN editor--is an 89-year old, currently living in senior housing, with a lifelong interest in political philosophy. Bachelors from State University of Iowa (1944) and Masters from Roosevelt University (1975) help to unravel important requirements for modern communication. Early introduction to computer science (1966) trumps them. It's payback time. She's been "entitled" so long she hopes to find some good coming off the keyboard into the lives of those who come after her.
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