Obama has heartwarming reunion with boy who touched his hair in iconic photo

·2 min read

It remains one of the most memorable photos of Barack Obama’s presidency: a 5-year-old Black boy in the Oval Office with the nation’s first Black president, touching the commander in chief’s hair because he wanted to know whether it was just like his.

“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Obama, according to White House photographer Pete Souza, who snapped the image, which went viral.

“Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” Obama said, lowering his head. “Touch it, dude!”

The child did.

“So, what do you think?” Obama asked.

“Yes, it does feel the same,” he replied.

Jacob Philadelphia, a 5-year-old Black boy, touches Barack Obama's hair in the Oval Office as members of the boy's family watch.
Jacob Philadelphia touches President Barack Obama's hair in the Oval Office on May 8, 2009. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

The boy, Jacob Philadelphia, is now 18. On Friday, he graduates from high school.

Philadelphia is graduating from the International School of Uganda just outside Kampala, where his father works in the U.S. Embassy.

Obama recently held a video call with him.

“Do you remember me?” Obama asked.

“I do,” Philadelphia said, recalling that the president had told him his hair would be gray the next time he saw him.

Jacob Philadelphia. (Obama.org via YouTube)
Jacob Philadelphia. (Obama.org via YouTube)

A framed photo of their 2009 encounter hung in the West Wing while Obama was president. It now hangs in Obama’s office in Washington.

“I think this picture embodied one of the hopes that I had when I first started running for office,” the former president said in a video posted to social media Friday. “I remember telling Michelle and some of my staff that if I were to win, the day I was sworn into office, young people, particularly African American people, people of color, outsiders, folks who maybe didn't always feel like they belonged — they'd look at themselves differently, to see a person who looks like them in the Oval Office.”

Philadelphia, whose father served on Obama’s National Security Council, agreed.

“It is really wonderful to see representation in government,” Philadelphia said. “Because if I get to see another Black man be at the top, be at that pinnacle, then I want to follow that lead.”