My Brother’s Keeper: Insights on Manhood and Brotherhood From Our Former President

“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”

– Barack Hussein Obama, 2004 Democratic Convention speech

A young Barack Obama with his father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., in Hawaii, 1960’s. Photo, courtesy, Obama family.

In 1995, former President Barack Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, was published. Written while Obama was in his early 30’s, the book speaks of his troubled youth, the larger-than-life image of his absent father, his diverse lineage and racial identity, and his quest to find the meaning of manhood and the meaning of his life.

In his story, I saw glimpses of the principles our ancestors have embraced in order to endure – and triumph – for millenniums.  The principles from which any man could grow and by which all Americans can thrive rest in the principles found at the center of the Bible: faith, resilience, repentance, determination, hope, and love.  

Below is a list of 11 principles drawn from the life and autobiography of one of America’s most admired men, Barack Obama.  The principles can help provide the tools needed to grow the strong American men, fathers, mentors, and teachers of tomorrow:

1. Make God first in your life. We’ve been told this by parents and grandparents, and our former president 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 is 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.

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Barack Obama with his grandfather, mother, and sister, early 1970’s. Photo, courtesy, Obama family.

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 (Main photo:.

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.  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.

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Obama and daughters do chores at home. Photo by Callie Shell.

9. Cultivate fatherhood. President Obama did not have his father physically in his life for most of his life, but he diligently sought the meaning of manhood and fatherhood through those who knew his dad.  He also sought 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 we pursue our purpose in life, we commit our lives 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.

It has been prophesied that African American men will rise to the challenge God has set before them by becoming the example of resilience and fortitude of our mighty nation.  Have faith, seek the Lord, and believe that our better days as a people and as a nation are still aheadWest Angeles LOGO.


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REFERENCES AND THANKS:

  • “Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance” by Barack Obama.  Copyright, 1995, 2004, Barack Obama. Originally published in hardcover in 1995 by Times Books, an 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 an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
  • Statistics and references, courtesy Whitehouse.gov, the US Census Bureau, the Economic Policy Institute, Harvard.edu., abcnews.go.com., The Black Star Project, Bishop Dwight Pate.
  • Photos – Obamas serve DC veterans on Thanksgiving, courtesy, Pete Souza. Obama family photos, courtesy, Barack Obama on Twitter.

DID YOU KNOW?

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:

https://www.coursera.org/

http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses