You’ve probably seen his face before, the bro in the red shirt with spiky brown hair.
He’s Jelani Sample, and he graces Arizona’s sample driver’s license.
His slight smile can be found in news articles about state IDs, like the ones about Dreamers’ licenses or REAL ID. He’s on the Arizona Department of Transportation’s website. He’s been around, basically.
But who is Jelani Sample? Who came up with the name? Why did he decide to be an organ donor?
These questions deserved an investigation by the Arizona Capitol Times.
The Transportation Department says his photo is a licensed image used by multiple states’ motor vehicle agencies. The image of the man belongs to MorphoTrust USA, the company that produces identification for those states, ADOT said.
He took over the job as sample ID model in 2014 when the state redesigned its licenses, ADOT said. Before Jelani got the job, the agency used a photo of one of its own employees with fictitious information, ADOT spokesman Doug Nick said.
Basically, Jelani Sample is a stock photo, and we don’t know who he is in real life. But since we don’t know who the man is, we’ll focus on the myth.
How did he come to be named Jelani, not a particularly common name in Arizona – or elsewhere?
“Jelani is, to say the least, a conveniently and appropriately unique name, as he is something of a man of mystery,” Nick told the Capitol Times exclusively. “Some would say he’s the second-most interesting man in the world.”
The name means “mighty” in Swahili, according to the internet. The Baby Center says it’s the #1,794 most popular name for babies.
Here’s what we know about the man they call Sample:
He lives at 123 Main Street in Phoenix. (Phoenix does not have a Main Street, though some of its surrounding suburbs do.) Nick said Sample is rarely at his house because “he apparently comes from a family of performers and travels frequently.”
He’s 5-foot-9-inches and weighs 185 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes.
He’s ready to give you his organs if tragedy should befall him. “We love that he’s an organ donor,” Nick said.
The sample ID labeled Sample a veteran, which hopefully is not an example of stolen valor. ADOT didn’t have any details on his veteran status, but said the agency honors all veterans and thanks them for their service.
His ID sometimes lists his birthdate as February 1, 1957, while a version on ADOT’s website now says January 1, 1974. But he looks much younger than that 1957 birthdate would allow. Good genes? Or an example of how infrequently Arizonans have to update their license photos?
Nick pointed out a Sample connection, for all you fans of old-time TV shows. There was a “Hee Haw” character named Junior Samples who was known for his folksy jokes. ADOT couldn’t confirm it, but they believe the cornpone humor dude may have been Jelani Sample’s uncle because “the resemblance is uncanny.”
It’s not just this newspaper who noticed Sample popping up all over the place for the past few years. An enterprising person created what appears to be a fake account under Jelani Sample’s name, using the same photo that appears on the state ID sample.
@JelaniSample has only tweeted once, a simple, on-brand message of “Sup bro” in May 2014. His bio says: “Let’s go bro out, pound some shots and cheer for teams we can’t make.”
— Jelani Sample (@JelaniSample) May 1, 2014
People semi-frequently tweet about the bro-like appearance of Sample, as well as his uncommon name.
Clue Heywood, a popular Twitter account run by an unknown someone from Arizona, said he loved that the state’s sample license photo is such a bro. “This dude has a jet boat at Havasu,” Heywood wrote.
I love that the Arizona MVD website’s sample license features the most Arizona looking bro possible. This dude has a jet boat at Havasu. pic.twitter.com/cP2rWsn0G4
— Clue Heywood (@ClueHeywood) February 15, 2018
Drew Sexton, a conservative political consultant, tweeted on February 15 that he saw the state ID sample in an Arizona newspaper and said he would “absolutely click on and share” a story about the man’s provenance. “What is the deal behind the sample AZ ID? Who came up with the name ‘Jelani Sample’? Who is the bro in the photo?” Sexton wondered.
We hope you’re clicking on this investigation and sharing it, Drew.
Nevada’s sample ID also boasts the man’s image, who they also cleverly (or not-so-cleverly) named Jelani Sample. The Nevada Jelani lives on 123 Sample Street in Anytown, Nevada. There’s also a Nigerian ID sample featuring a Jelani Sample. Other state ID examples, including ones for Connecticut and Oklahoma, use a woman named Susan Catherine Sample, perhaps a relative of our Jelani.
Good morning. For those who want to make enquiries about the status of their drivers` licence, kindly call 08150654567 or 08058298826. pic.twitter.com/CZGt9OW26Y
— FRSC, NIGERIA (@FRSCNigeria) September 29, 2017
This is pretty much all we know about Jelani Sample. A reverse image search of his likeness didn’t bring up any relevant results. (The whole reverse image search thing isn’t nearly as useful as people claim it is, to be honest.)
If you know who the real Jelani Sample is, meaning the real bro in the photo, let us know. Call (602) 889-7143 and leave a tip.