At a time when the world seems to be spinning off its axis with children and adults slaughtered by gunfire, a power-hungry dictator invading a country, and the rights of Americans being stripped away at every turn, it’s important to take a second to remember a few wonderful moments that are also happening.
One such moment dates back to 2009, when a 5-year-old got the chance to visit the White House and meet then-President Barack Obama. His name is Jacob Philadelphia. Today, Philadelphia, now 18, will graduate from the International School of Uganda. His father, Carlton Philadelphia, was a former National Security Council staffer under Obama and was posted in the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Philadelphia is best-remembered for a small but mighty gesture. On a visit with his parents and older brother to the Oval Office, Philadelphia asked if the president’s hair felt like his own. Obama bent his 6’2” frame over and told the inquisitive little boy to go ahead and “Touch it, dude!” White House photographer Pete Souza snapped a photo. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Obama told the graduate the moment was “a reminder of one of the reasons” he ran for president.
The photo, which hangs in Obama’s office today, is one of the most famous of the former president because it speaks directly to the idea of inclusion.
In a video from the Obama Foundation set to be shown at Philadelphia’s graduation ceremony, the Times reports, Obama says he thinks the picture “embodies one of the hopes” he’d had when he ran 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 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 looked like them in the Oval Office. It would speak to Black kids and Latino kids, gay kids and young girls. They could see the world open up for them.’”
Although Philadelphia likely didn’t understand the significance of touching Obama’s hair at the time, even admitting that as a child he mostly thought of Obama as his dad’s boss, eventually he understood the deeper implications.
“That was a pretty big highlight of my life,” Philadelphia says in the video. “If I get to see another Black man be at the top, be at that pinnacle, then I want to follow that lead.”
Philadelphia’s mother Roseana told the Times that the “only thing” Jacob has ever wanted to do with his life is to become president. “That’s why he’s going to study political science,” she said.
Philadelphia heads to the University of Memphis in the fall and with him, he’ll take all of the hope that Obama and his presidency gave us. God knows Philadelphia will need it, just like we all do right now.
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