Why does Barack Obama say he became a community organizer in Dreams From My Father?

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When Barack Obama finished his undergraduate education at Columbia University, he decided to work as a community organizer and applied to a number of organizations (Chapter Seven). However, he did not initially get hired. Instead, he obtained a position in a different realm altogether. A consulting firm for a multinational corporation took him on as a research assistant, and he was soon promoted. A sudden change in his family brought him back to his intentions, when he heard that his half-brother David had died in Kenya in an accident. This prompted him to re-evaluate his life’s trajectory, and he quit his job and restarted his efforts to become an organizer.

The reasons that Obama felt within himself were often different than those he stated publicly. Initially, he was not even sure what organizers did. In his 20s during the Reagan administration, he saw the need for change at all levels and wanted to start at the grass roots. While he embraced the ideas he heard in slogan, he also experienced a romantic attachment to the efforts of those who went before him in the Civil Rights movement—a vision of the African American “past I had never known.” He began to formulate a clearer idea of what “community” meant, and his own style of commitment to growing and improving such communities. He also understood that he could gain an understanding of his unique life from the union of black and white parents in a particular time. The communities he envisioned

had never been a given in this country, at least not for blacks. Communities had to be created, fought for, tended like gardens. . . . Through organizing, through shared sacrifice, membership had to be earned. . . .

This was my idea of organizing. It was a promise of redemption.

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The community organizing element in President Obama's life can be seen in a couple of ways as presented in the memoir.  To a certain extent, the memoir presents the need to community organize as a way to bridge the gap between theory and practice.  This aspect of "praxis" is one where Obama is able to fully understand the implications of law and social policy in the form of community organizing.  In a more psychological analysis, one can see his need to community organize in largely African- American communities as a way to fully understand his own identity.  As a person whose racial and ethnic identity becomes a major part of the narrative, the need to struggle in understanding what personal identity is, there is something quite telling in how the young Obama is able to work in these communities, recognizing a bit of his own life in the narratives of those he meets and with whom he works.  In this light, his days of community organizing not only afforded him a level of satisfaction from the political point of view, but also from a psychological or personal one, as well.

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