Clark Reynolds, 3, is greeted by President Obama during a Black History Month Celebration held Feb.18, 2016, at the White House in Washington, D.C. (Pete Souza/White House)
“The look in Clark’s eyes offers one half of America’s current story. A country once determined to import and enslave black Americans is now, indeed, led by one. That is a transformation so profound and complex that when another young black child, Jacob Philadelphia, visited the White House in 2009 and asked the then-new president if they have the same hair. Obama bent down and advised Jacob to find out. The answer – yes – said much more to Jacob, the millions of Americans who have seen the Souza photo of that momentsince. It said, I am like you. You are like me. The most powerful elected office in the world is mine and is truly possible for all of us. Obama reportedly gave the photo a permanent and special home in the White House.
But then, there is Obama’s tender touch on Clark’s cheek this week. It isanother remarkably familiar gesture between strangers which also reveals something deep and true. It speaks to the other half of America’s current story. Obama is our president. Still, this remains a country where children who look like Clark, but are perhaps a decade older, are widely regarded as a menace. They are to be feared and contained. Obama’s touch says, this child is precious and valuable because of who he is and what he can become. But when Obama said as much – telling reporters in 2012 that if he had a son, that son would look like Trayvon Martin – a good portion of America reacted as if that reminder was itself an extreme affront.
On Thursday, before Clark left the White House, President Obama inscribed Clark’s favorite book. Clark’s mother brought it along. The inscription reads: “To Clark – Dream big dreams! Barack Obama.“”