Before going to Harvard Law School, 26-year-old Obama went to Kenya to visit his dead father's grave. He also visited his grandparents and half-siblings, and he faced the shocking poverty of his father's homeland.
The overall experience helped Obama further understand his father and why he had returned to Kenya instead of staying with him. This father and son pair had many similarities, including high goals of helping poverty and their own people, according to the A&E video."
The work I was doing was directly connected to my own family and their own struggles," Obama said. "It helped to unify my outward self with my inward self in an important way."
'We Just Clicked'
Obama entered Harvard Law School in 1988. After his first year, he worked at a summer internship in Chicago, where he met his wife, Michelle Robinson, his mentor and lawyer at Sidley and Austin.
"We just clicked," Michelle Obama said. The couple married on Oct. 3, 1992.
In February 1990, Obama was elected the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review, and he began to receive a lot of media attention. He graduated from Harvard magna cum laude in 1991.
Beginnings of Political Career
After law school, Obama returned to Chicago to practice as a civil rights lawyer, joining the firm of Miner, Barnhill & Galland. He also lectured at the University of Chicago Law School.
Obama became director of Illinois Project Vote in 1992 and helped organize and register about 100,000 new voters during Bill Clinton's presidential campaign, according to the A&E video.
His success in the project placed him on Crain's Chicago Business Top 40, Under 40 Outstanding Young Leaders in Chicago that year.
Obama's mother passed away in 1995 after losing her battle against ovarian cancer. Also that year, Obama's autobiography, "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance," was published. At the time, it received mediocre reviews and went quickly out of print. However, he later won a Grammy for the audio version of the book.
Ultimately, Obama's advocacy work led him to run for the Illinois State Senate as a Democrat, and he was elected in 1996 from the South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park.
In 1998, Michelle and Barack had their first child, Malia Ann. Their second daughter, Natasha, was born in 2001.
By 1999, Obama's success and hard work had established him as a politician with charisma and drive, according to the A&E video.
However, Obama had a political misstep when he was running against incumbent Bobby Rush for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Important gun control legislation was going to be voted on in the state Senate, and a close vote was foreseen. Although Obama supported the bill, he was in Hawaii and decided to stay with his ill daughter instead of returning when the bill was put on the floor.
Without Obama's vote, the bill did not pass, and Rush used Obama's absence against him in his own campaign, saying, "there was no excuse for missing a pivotal vote."
Obama lost the election to Rush but returned to the state Senate and passed 27 pieces of legislation over the next four years.
In 2003, Obama entered the race for the U.S. Senate. He won the 2004 Illinois primary after his main opposing candidate Jack Ryan dropped out because of exposed scandals.
Obama made the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. This defining moment in his career made him one of the United States' premier black leaders, said Mendell.
On Nov. 2, 2004, Obama became the fifth black senator in the U.S. Senate, at the age of 43.
Once in office, Obama was the first to raise the threat of avian flu on the Senate floor, speak out for victims of Hurricane Katrina and push for alternative-energy development and improved veterans' benefits.