Obama reconnects with youth — now graduating high school — in famous ‘Hair Like Mine’ photo
Reflecting on one of the most iconic photos of his presidency, former President Obama said, “I think this picture embodied one of the hopes that I had when I first started running for office.”
WASHINGTON — At a time when all seems so gloomy — Buffalo, Uvalde and more — here’s an upbeat story about how former President Barack Obama reconnected with Jacob Philadelphia.
You probably don’t recall Jacob’s name.
But you know the picture.
One of the most iconic photos of the Obama presidency was taken in the Oval Office on May 8, 2009, when a Black youth named Jacob — the son of a departing White House National Security staffer — asked him, “Is your hair like mine?”
And Obama recalled he said in reply, “Do you want to check and see?”
Obama, the first Black president, leaned over so Jacob, then 5, could pat his head.
The ever-present White House photographer Pete Souza snapped the picture, and it was titled “Hair Like Mine,” since Obama and Jacob shared the same close-cropped haircut.
Obama sent Jacob a copy of the photo that he signed, “We’ve got the same haircut!”
While photos often were rotated in and out of the West Wing during Obama’s two terms, the picture of Obama bending down so Jacob could feel his hair was displayed for the rest of the Obama presidency.
A copy of this famous Souza photo is in Obama’s office in Washington, where he manages his various post-presidential enterprises.
Jacob is now 18, has lived abroad for years and is about to graduate from high school and attend the University of Memphis, where he wants to study political science.
Jacob’s father, Carlton Philadelphia, in 2009 was a National Security Council staffer who brought his family to meet Obama in the Oval Office on the occasion of his leaving his White House job.
His father joined the State Department. The Philadelphia family has lived overseas for years in various postings, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
Obama reconnected with Jacob May 19 on the occasion of his high school graduation from the International School of Uganda in Kampala.
Obama’s team released a video on Friday that includes his chat with Jacob and the reflections that photo prompted.
Standing by the photo in his office, Obama said, “I think this picture embodied one of the hopes that I had when I first started running for office. I remember telling Michelle and some of my staff, you know, I think that if I were to win, the day I was sworn in to 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 looked like them in the Oval Office.
“It would speak to Black kids and Latino kids, gay kids, young girls. Now they could see the world open up to them,” Obama said.
Jacob told Obama when they video chatted that as a kid visiting the Oval Office, he just thought the president was his dad’s boss.
He told Obama he remembered touching his hair: “That was a pretty big highlight of my life,” Jacob said. “It is very wonderful to see representation in the government because if I get to see another Black man be at the top, be at that pinnacle, then I want to follow that lead.”
Obama also provided a video to the school in which he congratulated the class of 2022, “especially Jacob. I cannot believe you’re already graduating high school, which means,” said Obama, whose hair is now gray, “I am old.”