The "skinny kid with a funny name" -- as President Barack Obama referred to himself in his 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote address -- made history in 2008 by becoming the first black man to be elected President of the United States.
Breaking racial barriers is nothing new for him, however. Obama has been trying to find his place in society as an African-American starting in elementary school and continuing through his college years.
Obama's diverse background and strong foundation of American principles matches the melting pot appearance of the country he hopes to lead.Barack Obama -- Barack means "blessed" in the Central African language of Luo -- was born Aug. 4, 1961, in Honolulu, Hawaii, to Ann Dunham and Barack Obama Sr.Obama's father was born in the Nyanza Province, Kenya, and grew up herding goats with his own father. In 1959, at the age of 23, Barack Obama Sr. won a scholarship that allowed him to leave Kenya and study economics at the University of Hawaii. It was there that he met Ann Dunham.
Dunham grew up in Wichita, Kan., where her father worked on oil rigs during the Depression and marched across Europe in Patton's army. Her mother worked on a bomber assembly line during World War II. After the war, the family moved to Hawaii.
Obama's parents met at the University of Hawaii. They were both students when they married and Obama was born in 1961.
In 1963, when Obama was 2, the couple separated when his father moved from Hawaii to Boston with a scholarship to finish his Ph.D at Harvard. Barack Sr. returned to Kenya after his schooling with the goal of bettering his poverty-stricken country. Besides visiting his son once, Barack Sr. remained in Kenya until his death in a car accident in 1982.
Later, Dunham was remarried to Lolo Soetoro, a University of Hawaii student from Indonesia. In 1967, the whole family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia. Here, Obama's half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng was born in 1970.
While living in Indonesia, Obama found an American magazine article that showed blacks using skin-bleaching agents to make themselves lighter.
Obama told A&E, "I first realized that I was an African-American (at that moment), but also there were all sorts of implications to race and there were power relationships in race. ... I remember feeling shocked by that."
This event would trigger Obama's journey to find his identity in the black community.
In 1971, 10-year-old Barack, commonly known as "Barry" in his early years, returned to Hawaii to live with grandparents Madelyn and Stanley Dunham. According to David Mendell, a Chicago Tribune reporter, being separated from his mother was a dramatic experience.
He said, "he missed her greatly at times."
Obama was enrolled in the fifth grade at the esteemed Punahou Academy after returning to Hawaii and graduated with honors in 1979. He was one of three black students at the entire school.
His half-sister Soetoro-Ng said that Obama felt the first stirrings of loneliness while attending this school. It was the first time that "there was nobody there that completely understood him," she said.
When Obama was in fifth grade, Barack Sr. visited Hawaii, but the intended joyous trip only caused a disruption. Soetoro-Ng said it was confusing for her half-brother and that he did not feel his father was entitled to make decisions about his life.
Before Barack Sr. left, he gave Obama records of African music and a basketball, which also failed to bridge the gap between father and son, according to the A&E video.In 1972, Obama's mother separated from her second husband and returned to Hawaii with Maya to complete her masters in anthropology at the University of Hawaii.
Dunham taught her children the lessons she learned in her studies, especially those of the underprivileged, according to the A&E video. Soetoro-Ng said that her mother had dolls that were "all the colors of the rainbow, and in fact, that is what our family looked like."
Mimicking 'Black Behavior'
Obama's high school years were filled with continuous efforts to find his place within the society around him. Mendell wrote that Obama tried to mimic what he thought was "black behavior," including slacking off in schoolwork, playing basketball and experimenting with alcohol, marijuana and cocaine.
Although his grades were not excellent, Obama was still admitted to Occidental College in Los Angeles. Obama made several black friends at school, but he still did not fully understand what it meant to be a black American, which left him feeling like he did not belong, according to the video.
After his sophomore year, Obama transferred to Columbia University in New York, where he eventually graduated in 1983 with a degree in political science.
While at Columbia, Obama walked through many ethnic neighborhoods and tried to understand the "societal forces around the issue of race," according to the A&E video. Obama eventually knew that he wanted to be a community organizer, a job he hoped would allow him to confront the kind of racism and poverty that had troubled him for most of his life.
After graduation, Obama moved to Chicago's South Side to help with the Developing Communities Project and the Altgeld Gardens public housing development. After successfully completing projects in school reform and hazardous waste cleanup, and establishing a job-training center, Obama set his sights on Harvard Law.
"So much of the struggle of people being left behind involved laws, and if (Obama) was to be an advocate, he needed to be credentialed in the law," said David Axelrod, a media adviser.