Boy in touching Obama photo looks back on viral moment: 'It felt just like my hair'


Jacob Philadelphia's barber once told him he had the same hair as President Barack Obama.

Obama had just been elected America's first black president.

"At that point, the barber probably didn't think too much of it, but then, I wanted to see if our hair was the same," Jacob tells theGrio.com in a recent interview.

And, remarkably, Jacob would have the chance to get his answer.

Carlton Philadelphia, Jacob's father, was serving as the Executive Assistant to the Deputy National Security Advisor for the Bush administration. He was set to leave his position roughly six months into the presidency.

It's a tradition that White House staffers departing take a picture with the president, so Carlton brought his then five-year-old son Jacob and other family along.

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#ObamaAndKids, best photos of President Obama with children

Hi!

(Photo via The White House)

This photo is everything.

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A sleepy young Iowan rests his head on the president's shoulder.

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This child is a little less calm.

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Twins!

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Hi Ella!

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High fives all around!

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Easter egg roll!

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Obama greets one of his youngest fans in Prague in 2009.

(Photo via Getty)

The president is more amused than his young mohawked friend.

(Photo via Getty)

The signature fist bump.

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Obama puffs out his cheeks to amuse an infant visitor to the Oval Office.

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The president carefully inspects a classroom in Georgia.

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This baby gives Obama a fist bump of his own.

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Keeping pace with children running through the White House.

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Abraham Lincoln watches in approval as the president and a young girl share a hug in the Oval Office.

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A young Ohio boy splits some strawberry pie with the POTUS.

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The president said this shot of him and a pint-sized Spider-Man was his favorite of 2012.

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High five!

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Groovin.

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A quick game of hoops in Missouri Valley, Iowa.

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Cool dad.

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Obama circles his desk with a petite pink pal in hot pursuit.

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The Obamas laugh at a child dressed as the pope.

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It's hard to say who looks more dapper.

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The president fills in as coach for his daughter Sasha's basketball game.

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Skeptical infants peer at the POTUS through a window.

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Obama hoists his young pal Simba-style.

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President Pied Piper.

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Holding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's granddaughter in California.

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Dandelion blowing on Martha's Vineyard.

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An adorable tie-wearing baby visits the White House.

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The president embraces a young girl during a 2011 visit to Ireland.

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Well hello there.

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Sharing secrets.

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First Lady Michelle Obama persuades her husband to join in the dancing in Mumbai, India.

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The president greeting some Estonian schoolgirls.

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The president at the heart of the La Follette Lancers' huddle in Madison, Wis.

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Spelling out "Ohio" with some of the state's happiest residents.

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Pure delight!

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Trick or Treat!

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Not impressed.

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Sasha and her father splash around in the ocean on a vacation to Florida.

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Peek-a-boo!

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High five!

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The president and his daughters celebrate the arrival of Portuguese Water Dog Bo.

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The POTUS casually greets a family at Stonehenge.

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The president hoists a baby into the air during a visit to Japan.

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A young boy reaches up to compare the president's hair to his own.

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It's Halloween at the White House.

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Secret secrets.

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One White House staffer is extra excited at this encounter.

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This is Lincoln Rose Pierce Smith, the daughter of former deputy press secretary Jamie Smith.

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The president also fits in with a slightly older crowd.

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Obama says hello to a set of twins on the South Lawn.

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The president lets this first grader touch up his hairdo.

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All smiles.

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Nice baby face.

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Presidential pre-school.

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A presidential cheek pinch.

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"I think of myself as a very lucky kid," says Jacob, who's now 13.

"I asked [Obama] if I could touch his head. Then he had bent over and actually allowed me to touch his head. I was actually surprised."

It turns out his barber was right.

"It felt like my hair," Jacob says. "It really did seem like what my haircut felt like."

What Jacob and his father didn't realize is that his farewell to the White House would be documented for the world to see. The White House placed the picture on the White House website, and it went viral and stayed on the White House website during the entire Obama administration.

"The president's photographer took a series of photos when we were in there meeting with him, and this one just so happened to resonate with people," Carlton says proudly.

Pete Souza, the White House photographer at the time, told the New York Times in 2012:

That [photo] became an instant favorite of the staff. I think people are struck by the fact that the president of the United States was willing to bend down and let a little boy feel his head.

For Jacob, the photo is more than just a picture with the president.

"I would usually look at the picture when I'm a little bit sad to just remind myself that life always will go on," Jacob says. "I will try to do it the right way."

A large portrait of the exchange is hung up at his house in Falls Church, Virginia. When the viral moment happened, Jacob didn't fully understand who Obama was. He thought he was just one of his dad's buddies.

"I thought that he didn't have that much power, he was just some ordinary person," Jacob laughs. "Now I actually realize that he was the President of the United States, one of the most powerful men in the world."

"I mean it just showed the humility of President Obama," Carlton said. "You got the innocence of a five-year-old there and here's the most powerful man in the world bending over [so a boy] could touch his head. Here is power and innocence and humility all wrapped up in this photo."

Jacob is now in seventh grade. He says he's not really into politics but hasn't ruled out one day running for president himself.

In the meantime, he's fine with having met the first African-American president.

"I was very lucky to actually meet [President Obama]," Jacob said. "I actually became famous for something that I didn't even know would ever happen."

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