The road from unknown young college graduate to President of the United States was a long and winding road
for President Barack Obama, and one of the men who helped him with a leg up in the mid 1980s was a man named Gerald Kellman, a native of New Rochelle, New York, who was then working in Chicago as a community organizer organizer. In David Maraniss’ new book about Obama titled OBAMA: THE STORY, we learn that Obama moved from
New York City to Chicago in 1985 to take a job with a community organizing group. See an article by Phil Davidson titled ”Obama’s mentor: Community organizer Jerry Kellman trained the man who
would become president.” Google the title to see more.
”But since autumn — longer than that actually, but especially since
autumn — the office has seen a spike in the number of visits and phone
calls from people with no ties to the …..community.
”Those people, reporters mostly, came calling and looking for Kellman
to inquire about his relationship with the world’s most powerful man:
President Barack Obama.
”Kellman, who goes by Jerry, said recently he was spending 25 hours per
week doing interviews with media outlets from all over the world.
That’s bound to happen to the person who brought Obama to Chicago 25
years ago and hired him as a community organizer — a profound and
prominent period in the president’s life, which has been written about
”The day after Christmas, Kellman was in his office fielding an
interview with a reporter from Libération, a French daily newspaper,
for a feature on people who influenced world leaders. Most reporters,
however, just wanted him to shed some insight on his former protégé,
whom he employed to help enact social justice in moribund communities
on Chicago’s south side and its suburbs.
”Touting the virtues of an old friend and a person he thoroughly
believes in to the press wasn’t much of a burden, Kellman says.
“It was a privilege to help with this campaign,” says Kellman, who’s
working on a return to community organizing after leaving several
years ago for a career in the ministry. “I wanted him to win.”
”Kellman was born in New York City in 1950 but was raised in New
Rochelle, N.Y. The suburb’s status as the first northern city to
desegregate its schools (based on a 1962 U.S. Supreme Court case) left
an indelible impression on him. [His father was a Broadway producer in Manhattan.
After some dalliances with activis m as a high school student — het]
counts a ban on Little Black Sambo dolls he helped initiate in local
schools as one victory — Kellman graduated to the big leagues upon his
enrollment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a progressive’s
“I went to the University of Wisconsin to major in student
protesting,” he says jokingly.
”In Madison, he rallied students and helped put a stop to mandatory
ROTC orientations, among other accomplishments. His stay was brief —
he eventually transferred to Reed College in Portland, Ore. — but the
Wisconsin school’s proximity to Chicago provided a fateful opportunity
to visit the Windy City. He stopped by in 1968 to experience the
Democratic National Convention, but like many liberals who made the
trip, Kellman left with a bad impression.
”Despite telling himself that he’d never go back, Kellman arrived in
Chicago again in 1970, this time to stay for the long haul. He began
an education in community organizing at a school run by Saul Alinsky,
the late Chicagoan considered by many as the modern practice’s father.
”Alinsky was a radical, but his method of reaching the core of people’s
needs and concerns through one-on-one interviews influenced many
organizers, perhaps most notably Obama.
”In 1988, Obama wrote an article for Illinois Issues, “Problems and
promise in the inner city,” about his experiences as an organizer in
and around Chicago. In it, he describes how nowhere was the promise of
organizing more apparent than in the traditional black churches. The
piece later became part of the book ”After Alinsky: Community
Organizing in Illinois.”
So what brought Kellman and Obama together in the 1980s? God works in mysterious ways.
”Through his work
with the Developing Communities Project, the CCRC’s inner-city
operation, Kellman fought the fallout affecting workers and their
families as the factories and mills began to shutter.
”As the project’s executive director, he thought it wise to bring in a
charismatic African-American organizer to whom the ministers and
residents could better relate.
”Help-wanted ads were placed in newspapers across the country,
including one in the New York Times. A 24-year-old Columbia University
graduate saw it and applied.
His name was Barack Obama.
“I had all but given up on organizing when I received a call from
Marty Kaufman,” Obama wrote in his 1995 memoir, ”Dreams from My Father”.
“He offered to start me off at $10,000 the first year, with a $2,000
travel allowance to buy a car; the salary would go up if things worked
Marty Kaufman is a pseudonym for Jerry Kellman. Obama writes about him
at length throughout the memoir’s 160-page section on his experience
organizing in Chicago. Kellman has a signed copy. It reads “To Jerry,
a friend and a mentor.”
Kellmann was Obam’s ”CHINAMAN”, according to Maraniss, a Chicago politics term for a mentor or teacher, possibly related to Confucius, the Chinese sage. SEE: Chinaman was an epithet for political mentors and backers in the
politics of Chicago, Illinois, U.S., in the 1900s. Although
politically incorrect, the term is still in use today. An example of
the use of the term appeared in the January 27, 2004 Chicago
Sun-Times: “Before the age of political correctness, Munoz would have
been called Torres’ chinaman, and in City Hall, that’s still what
they’d call him, but if you prefer, you can stick with mentor or
So…to make a long story short, Kellman hired Obama. Obama went on to become President in 2008.
AND: the Jewish-born Kellman converted to Catholicism in 1983.
This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content are presented solely by the author, and JewishBoston assumes no responsibility for them. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Publish your own post here. MORE