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Barack Obama catches up with the boy who asked to touch his hair

CBS News logo CBS News 5/27/2022 Sarah Cater

Former President Barack Obama has had a virtual reunion with a young man whose innocent question in the Oval Office yielded a photo that hung for years in the White House, and for many, touched the heart of the American dream.

Five-year-old Jacob Philadelphia meets President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in 2009.  / Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza © Provided by CBS News Five-year-old Jacob Philadelphia meets President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in 2009.  / Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

"Is that Jacob? It's Barack Obama. Do you remember me?" the former president asks a now-18-year-old Jacob Philadelphia in a video posted on his official website.

From the small monitor on his desk, a smiling young man replies: "Yes, and you said your hair would be gray next time."

"And I was not lying," responds Obama. 

The two first met in 2009, when Carlton Philadelphia, Jacob's father, a U.S. Marine who served on the National Security Council, brought his family to the White House. While introducing his children to then-President Obama, his younger son Jacob, then 5, asked the nation's chief executive: "Is your hair like mine?"

President Obama leaned down and encouraged the little boy to touch his hair, to find out for himself. 

"I think that is pretty much what I got," Jacob declared, according to Obama. 

White House photographer Pete Souza captured the moment in a photo that spent the rest of Obama's presidency hanging on a wall in the West Wing. 


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"I think this picture embodied one of the hopes I had when running for office," Obama said in the video posted to his website on Friday. "The day I was sworn into office, young people, particularly people of color, outsiders, they would look at themselves differently, to see a person who looked like them in the Oval Office, and they could see the world open up to them."

Almost 14 years later, Jacob was graduating on Friday from the International School of Uganda, outside Kampala.

"I was five years old when I met President Obama in the Oval Office," he says in the video released by the former president's office. "I just thought the president was my dad's boss. I didn't know how powerful he was… I kinda remember him towering over me, and me touching his hair."

"If I get to see another Black man be at the top, at that pinnacle, then I want to follow that lead," he said. 

Jacob Philadelphia, 18, speaks on a video call with former President Barack Obama, May 27, 2022, in a screengrab from video posted on Obama's official website.   / Credit: Obama.org © Provided by CBS News Jacob Philadelphia, 18, speaks on a video call with former President Barack Obama, May 27, 2022, in a screengrab from video posted on Obama's official website.   / Credit: Obama.org

It was the former president who initiated the video call to pass along his congratulations to Jacob, saying he'd heard he was about to graduate. He said one benefit of his father working at the State Department has been the family's extensive travels, through which he's been able to "meet people and see their ideals of how they want to change the world."

Jacob said his plan was to study at the University of Memphis, with the goal of a degree in political science. 

Obama smiled and added, "I hope the White House has clearly inspired you." 

Their chat ended by coming full circle back to the hair, with Obama ending with a question of his own:

"Is that some facial hair you are growing there, some kind of a mustache?" before closing with, "It sounds like you are doing great."

"I couldn't be more proud of him," the former president wrote on his website.

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