In Honolulu, a high school friend remembers a young man who called himself “Barry”. Memories memories…
The Punahou School, the large school in Honolulu, the future master of the White House does not go unnoticed. He is a “hapa” (mestizo). Hawaii is renowned for its tolerance and racial diversity, but the school, founded in 1841 by Protestant missionaries, is a private institution dominated by “haole” (white people). The tuition fees are exorbitant. Barack Obama is only admitted because his grandmother, an employee of the Bank of Hawaii, asked his boss to intervene to obtain a scholarship. The young boy, then aged 10, is in “fifth grade” (CM1 class). He still wears his sandals from Jakarta, Indonesia, where he had lived a few months earlier with his mother and stepfather.
For the first time, he is confronted with racism. One of her first memories is of a little red-haired girl who has never approached a black man in her life and wants to touch his hair. She takes offense when he refuses. He also remembers a red-haired kid who asked him if his father was a cannibal. At the Punahou School, where he calls himself Barry (American version of Barack), he gives up by saying that he is the son of a Kenyan prince. In fact, he lives in his grandparents’ three-room apartment. Not far from Waikiki Beach, five blocks from the school, but on the tenth floor of an HLM on South Beretania Boulevard.
What saves him is his passion for basketball. Barack Obama is not a very good player. But he hangs on and gets admitted to the best teams in the school. As soon as he can, he puts on his number 23 jersey and goes to training. Thanks to basketball, Barry makes friends. With them, he created a small club, the Choom Gang. “Choom” in Hawaii means “to smoke marijuana”. In his Memoirs, Obama confesses to having taken it, as well as cocaine. The reverse would have been surprising, even hardly credible. In Hawaii at this time, the smell of “pakalolo” (“grass” in local jargon) is everywhere. Obama often joins his pals in a hideout the gang calls “Pumpking Stations.” It is located in a lush and discreet garden. They smoke in the car, all windows closed so as not to lose any of the scrolls. The Choom Gang have a blast sipping beers and listening to tunes from Led Zeppelin or Blue Öyster Cult.
Kelli Allman (née McCormack) and Barack Obama met on February 3, 1979, at the Honolulu Carnival. He is 17 years old. She is 16 and is running a baseball pit that day. ” How are you ? He throws at her. Daughter of a real estate developer on the island, Kelli is also the girlfriend of Greg Orme, Obama’s best friend. Inseparable, they play basketball and spend their time gently making fun of each other. They are “seniors”, in final year class. Kelli, “sophomore” (in second), is proud to show off with adults. With them, she feels a bit like the queen of the high school …
Kelli remembers a charming boy who was very gentle with girls. And little flirty
“Of all of Greg’s buddies, Barry was my favorite,” she said. He was funny, affectionate, and conversational. With him, we could discuss all subjects. She and Greg are among the few friends Barry sometimes invites to his house. “The place was very modest,” she says. But I never heard him complain. Although a minority on campus, he showed no bitterness, on the contrary. I remember a happy boy, always smiling, perfectly integrated among us. “
Kelli doesn’t miss any game he plays with Greg. After the final whistle, she slips a “lei” (traditional flower crown) around their necks and kisses them to congratulate them. She remembers partying with them at their lair in Pumpking Stations. “But Barry has always been a responsible person,” she says. He was anything but a junkie. He has good grades in school. “For him, success mattered. “His grandparents,” great, funny and very old school people, “see to it.
During the first half of 1979, Kelli saw Barry almost every day. She remembers a boy “charming but very gentleman with the girls”, and little flirtatious: “I never knew him a girlfriend”, she says. For the end of the year ball, he finds himself a “date” who is a simple comrade. Her name is Megan Hughes and is from La Pietra, another college for girls. Kelli invites them to have an aperitif at his parents’ house, with Greg. The four drink a glass of champagne, then have their picture taken by Kelli’s mother. They go to the Oahu Country Club in Nuuanu, where the ball takes place. After dinner the party starts, but the music is bad. The four friends head to a nightclub, then to Coleen Sullivan, a friend of Kelli’s.
The evening lasts until 4 a.m. A few days later, Kelli says goodbye to Barry at his graduation ceremony (the equivalent of the bachelor’s degree). Separated from Greg, she won’t really have any reason to see him again. The future president flies to Los Angeles, where he enrolled in university. Kelli did not hear from him until eleven years later, in 1990, when he was elected president of the “Harvard Law Review”. Barack Obama is the first black person to obtain this prestigious position. “I realized then that it was intended for the highest office,” says Kelli. For me at school Barry was just a very cool boy,
never stressed, in a t-shirt and sneakers, which I saw at all the parties. I never thought he would one day become President of the United States. “
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