White House/Pete Souza
- The iconic photo of a young boy feeling former President Barack Obama’s hair was taken just over 10 years ago.
- The boy, then-5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia, told Obama, "I want to know if my hair is just like yours."
- Obama leant over and told him to "touch it, dude!"
- The photo then became an "instant favorite" among the White House staff, according to photographer Pete Souza.
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One of the best-known photos taken during former President Barack Obama’s time in the White House is a heartwarming image of Obama bent over in front of the Resolute Desk, while a young boy reaches up to touch his hair — to see if it feels like his own.
The iconic image was snapped by White House photographer Pete Souza just over 10 years ago, on May 8, 2009.
The boy was 5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia, and he and his family had visited Obama in the Oval Office to take a photograph together. Jacob’s father, Carlton Philadelphia, had worked for two years on the National Security Council and was leaving the job, according to a 2012 New York Times article.
But just before the family left the room, Carlton Philadelphia told Obama that both of his young sons had a question for the president. While Isaac, Jacob’s 11-year-old brother, asked why Obama had eliminated the F-22 fighter jet, Jacob had a more personal inquiry.
"I want to know if my hair is just like yours," Jacob reportedly whispered. He said it so quietly that Obama asked him to repeat himself.
"Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself," Obama told him. "Touch it, dude!"
After Jacob gave the president a good pat, Obama asked, "So, what do you think?"
"Yes, it does feel the same," Jacob responded.
Carlton Philadelphia later told The Times that it was powerful moment for his sons.
"It’s important for black children to see a black man as president. You can believe that any position is possible to achieve if you see a black person in it," he said.
Though photos hung in the West Wing are frequently replaced with new ones, Souza told The Times in 2012 that his picture of Jacob touching Obama’s hair became an "instant favorite" among staff members.
Souza spoke with NPR about the photo in a November 2017 interview, saying he understood why the moment resonated with so many people.
"I guess what I see in that picture is two things: One is, here’s this African-American kid who is touching the head of the president of the United States, who looks like him. And I think a lot of young African-American kids probably could identify with that moment," he said. "But it also says something about President Obama that at the behest of this innocent question from this kid, that he was fine bending over to let this kid touch his head."
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