He led a new generation into higher education and leadership.
Tom Mboya -- already accomplished, at the age of 28, as the leader of a workers’ union and for his assumption of the mantle of Kenya’s nascent independence party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU)-— met with then-Senator John F. Kennedy in 1959 to promote a campaign to bring hundreds of Kenyan students to the United States for higher education. The effort already had the support of individuals like Jackie Robinson, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Convinced by Mboya’s vision of the need to train a new generation of post-colonial leaders, the Kennedy Family Foundation agreed to fund the early “airlifts.” Over 800 students -- including future leaders like Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai -- studied and traveled in the United States from 1959 until 1963, the year of Kenya’s independence. Inspired by the first airlift, Barack Obama, Sr. won a related scholarship to pursue graduate studies at the University of Hawaii in 1959. Graduating at the top of his class, he met and married American student Ann Dunham. Their son, Barack H. Obama, Jr. was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961.