Obama reunites with boy who touched his hair in iconic oval office photo

  • Former President Obama reunites with the boy who touched his hair in the Oval Office in 2009.
  • Pete Souza snapped a photo with Obama and then 5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia, which went viral.
  • Jacob is now 18 years old and last week finished high school in Uganda.

In May 2009, a few months after then-President Barack Obama entered the White House, five-year-old Jacob Philadelphia stepped into the Oval Office, unaware that he would become part of the legacy of America’s first black commander in chief.

As Jacob made the presidential visit with his father, then National Security Council officer Carlton Philadelphia, his mother Roseane and his older brother Isaac, he quietly asked a question.

“I want to know if my hair is the same as yours,” he told Obama in a tone so low that the then president asked him to repeat his question.

After hearing the question, Obama commented, “Why don’t you touch it and see it for yourself?”

The president leaned forward, but Jacob hesitated to move his hand.

“Touch it, dude!” said Obama.

Then-White House photographer Pete Souza quickly captured what would become an iconic photo; he called the image “Hair Like Mine” as an affirmation of the power of representation.

After Obama asked Jacob how it felt to touch his hair, he replied, “Yeah, it feels the same.”

On Friday, Obama reunited with Jacob via


Zoom

to congratulate the now 18-year-old on graduating from the International School of Uganda, located on the outskirts of Kampala.

“I think the visit to the White House clearly inspired you, I hope,” the former president told Jacob.

“Yes – it really is,” he replied.

Obama noted the personal significance of the photo during the video call with Jacob.

“I think this photo epitomized one of the hopes I had when I first ran for office,” the former president said.

He continued: “I remember telling Michelle and some of my staff, you know, I think if I won, the day I was sworn in, young people, especially African American people, people of color, outsiders “People who might not always feel like they belonged, they would look at themselves differently. To see someone who looked like them in the Oval Office. It would speak to black kids and Latino kids and gay kids and young girls – how she could see the world opening up to them.”

Jacob, who is going to study political science at the University of Memphis, shared what the visit to the White House meant to him all those years ago.

“When I was younger, I thought the president was just my father’s boss,” he said. “I didn’t know how powerful he was, but I was a bit intimidated. It was a really big room – the Oval Office – so I was a little shy.”

He continued: “I kind of remember touching his hair and he towering over me. That was a pretty big high point in my life. It’s really nice to see representation in government because when I see another black man are at the top, are at that peak, then I want to follow that example.”

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