Obama, Manhood, and “Dreams From My Father”- Part I

How does a Black boy without a father grow up to be the most powerful man on the planet?  The answer may surprise you.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the paperback release of “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” the autobiography originally published in 1995 by a then-unknown political hopeful named Barack Obama. By 2004, when the paperback edition was published, America had just taken notice of this uber-intelligent man of the world – then a senator from Illinois – after he’d given a historic keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.  

Fast-forward 10 years to 2014 and Barack Hussein Obama is in his second term as the 44th President of the United State. However, studies show* that the state of the African American male as a whole has remained a cause for concern:

  • 53% of black men aged 25-34 are either unemployed or earn too little to lift a family of four from poverty

  • At comparable educational levels, black men earn 67% of what White men earn

  • The chance of going to prison is highest among black males (32.2%)

  • 1.4 million black men out of a total voting population of 10.4 million have lost their right to vote due to felony convictions

  • Black men are 30% more likely to suffer a heart attack, and 60% more likely to suffer a stroke

And as scores of well-meaning non-profits develop program after program which attempt to help black men regain their footing in America, I remember President Obama’s autobiography which kept me engaged and inspired just 10 years before. I can’t help but wonder:

“Has anyone actually studied the life of our first African American President: leader of the Free World; the most powerful man on the planet today?  What practices,  beliefs, and ideals does he value, which could also serve as a road map to help uplift other African American men, and in turn, America as a nation?  What molded this man into one who would go where most believed an African American man never would?”

Below is a list of 11 principles revealed in “Dreams From My Father” which have made our President the man he is today; principles which have always been the cornerstone of the African American journey, and which uphold the American principles our nation was founded on:

1. Make God first in your life. We’ve already been told this by parents and grandparents, but guess what? Our president actually believes this, too. President Obama was raised by his mother, who was raised in a strong Christian household. And when it was time for him to choose the faith which would carry him into his own adult years –  in spite of the many cultures, faiths, and ideas he’d been exposed to throughout his childhood – he chose to follow Christ. His understanding of the biblical principles of faith, hope and love are a reflection of the moral and spiritual codes which govern his work and his life. Research shows that the strongest cultures are those with a central faith at its core; it’s faith through which all other aspects of a society flow. America, when at its best, from its inception and from the establishment of the Declaration of Independence, to the abolition of slavery and the passing of The Civil Rights Amendment, has risen beyond its greatest challenges by adhering to principles rooted in The Bible.

2. Correct your flaws. I saw a consistent theme throughout his book: Obama repents. Self-examination is always his response to pain, which then leads to purging and healing. He is also very determined and focused, and also always examines his own heart upon realizing he’s hurt others. Even his journey to Kenya to find his father ultimately lead to finding himself. The fundamental principle of the American Dream is the ability to become, through hard work and perseverance, the best we were created to be, and that starts with soul-searching and repentance.  

3. Get an education.  His paternal grandfather learned a trade through apprenticeship; his father used the opportunity of obtaining an American ivy-league education as a means of escaping an oppressive life in Kenya, pursuing a desire to be the man he knew he could be. A young Barack Obama attended Occidental College, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School, but even the education he received from the village elders in Africa was just as instrumental to his ability to grow and to develop into a man. See education not as a destination, but as a way of life, a quality he learned from his maternal grandfather. Be a lifelong learner; be teachable.  

3. Know your history. His Mother knew that neither she nor the schools he attended could provide her son with the solid foundation he’d need to grow into a strong black man. As a result, she woke him up each day before school to supplement his education by plying him with African history lessons and other subjects. As a result, he developed a desire to learn his own personal history through books and through his father’s people in Kenya.

4. Use your gifts and skills. Civil Rights attorney, orator, and writer; Obama developed and used his gifts for the greater good, always driven to answer the unseen moral question. Making the most of your talents and “working with your hands” is the key to survival and prosperity in life. It’s why we’ve been blessed with the skills we have.

5.  Do for others. Give back to the less fortunate; to important causes, to family, community, mankind. President Obama was driven to make the world a better place; becoming a community organizer and lawyer for the people, heeding and answering a greater call on each leg of his journey. Doing for others in love engages the spirit and makes you stronger, and it’s what we were biologically created to do.

6. Travel. It increases your view of the world and your place in it. Through travel, you gain a unique view of the world outside your community, your state, your country, and it changes your perspective on life.  If you can, take the opportunity to live in a place other than that of where you were born. Before settling in Chicago, President Obama traveled to or lived in communities in New York, Los Angeles, Hawaii, Indonesia, Europe and Africa, giving him a unique, global view of our world, our country, our needs and our strengths.

7. Cultivate brotherhood with other strong, Godly men. Early in his life, President Obama was introduced to strong African American men who were his grandfather’s friends, and later in life he sought out his own nurturing relationships. The security and wisdom provided by these bonds are established within our friendships and our churches, but are also found in relationships created through mentors, fraternities and civic organizations. Bonds with other men can strengthen your personal community, “extending your village” and knowledge base beyond family ties.

8. Get married and stay married. Be husband to one wife.  Marriage multiplies you, not just by the number of children you produce, but also mentally, physically, emotionally, economically and spiritually. Studies show that married men live longer, and the majority of health-conscious men are married, too.

9. Cultivate fatherhood. President Obama did not have his father physically in his life, but he diligently sought the meaning of manhood and fatherhood through those who knew his dad, and also through the wisdom of other strong men in his life.  Seeking inspiration and guidance  is also essential to being a good father.  Accepting the sacrifices fatherhood requires is part of being a strong man.

10.  Accept your mantle. By chapter 14, Barack Obama had established himself within the Chicago grassroots political community. He also  sensed that in order to make real change, he would have to further his education. At that moment, three events supernaturally converged: he was accepted to Harvard Law School, he found his church home, and beloved Chicago Mayor Harold Washington passed away, a man who, at the time, many dared to dream that he could be our first African American president.

11. Live for your purpose. When you pursue your purpose in life, commit your purpose to a higher authority. Barack Obama finished the Harvard education that his father did not, and became the embodiment not only of his father’s dreams, but also the dreams of a nation.

When African American men rise to the challenge God has set before them as the cornerstone of this nation, only then will America rise up to its full potential too. To quote our president from that now-historic 2004 speech:

“In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation, a belief in things not seen, a belief that there are better days ahead…I believe that we have a righteous wind at our backs, and that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices and meet the challenges that face us…and this country will reclaim its promise.”

PART I of a two-part series. Check Westa.org for Part II, which will focus on fatherhood and raising strong black boys.

See the historic 2004 Democratic Convention Speech below:


Many institutions of higher learning now offer free classes online. Known as “Open Course Ware” (OCW), the classes are offered at schools around the world.  See the links below to find schools and courses of study:




Our thanks:

“Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” by Barack Obama.  Copyright, 1995, 2004, Barack Obama. Originally published in hard cover in 1995 by Times Books, and imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Subsequently published in paperback, with preface and keynote address, in 2004 by Three Rivers Press, also and imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.

Photos, courtesy of Pete Souza. Video, courtesy of C-Span.

*Statistics and references, courtesy Whitehouse.gov, the US Census bureau, the Economic Policy Institute, Harvard.edu., abcnews.go.com., The Black Star Project.

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