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Two Items Offer Rare Glimpse Into Barack Obama's Past

"It is important that stories like mine aren't used so that everything is okay for blacks," Obama said of his election as president of Harvard Law Review.

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Barack Obama in Crain's Chicago Business's 1993 "40 Under 40.



Last year, Barack Obama galvanized Chicago's political community as no seasoned politico had before.

The director of Illinois Project Vote orchestrated an unwieldy band of 10 staff members and 700 volunteers to the tune of 150,000 new voters for the general election, the highest number registered in a single effort.

"Under Barack's leadership, we had the most successful, cost-effective, and orderly registration drive I've ever been involved with," says Alderman Sam Burell of the West Side's 29th Ward.

For Mr. Obama, an attorney and community organizer by profession, the job fit two of his aspirations: political reformer and entrepreneur for social justice.

"Temperamentally, I'm more suited to the latter. Practically, it's very difficult."

In fact, his catch phrase of late is "building institutions," although he's not yet sure what to build to achieve his most ambitious goal: to improve the quality of life for the working class and the poor.

Meantime, the 1991 Harvard Law School grad works at David Miner Barnhill & Galland, a small firm that handles civil rights cases and community development projects. He also lectures at the University of Chicago Law School on issues of race and law - topics that evoke strong feelings for him.

Born to a white American mother and a Kenyan father, Mr. Obama was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia and likes to impose his world view on racial issues. "I'm in a unique position," he explains.

He's used to uniqueness. In 1990, his election as president of the Harvard Law Review broke the publication's color lines and made newspaper headlines.

Rather than waltz the traditional path to a Supreme Court clerkship, however, he opted to direct Project Vote, write a book on race relations (to be published by Random House next year), and assist community groups in urban real estate development.

"If you have the chance to go to Harvard Law School, it's no accomplishment to be (just) a partner in a law firm," he observes. "It is an accomplishment to make a difference."

Andrew Kaczynski is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Andrew Kaczynski at

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