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'Santas Just Like Me' provides communities with Black Santas

Leoneda Inge
"Diamond Star Santa" aka Fabian Williams has been a North Carolina-based Santa Claus for six years.

Last year’s holiday season was ho-hum in many ways.

Because of COVID-19 and the pandemic, there were not as many Christmas parties. And that means there was not as much work for Santa Claus.

But that’s changed this year, especially for Black Santas.

Leoneda Inge
Manny Arango is all smiles posing with his wife, Tia, and son Theo, along with Diamond Star Santa in downtown Durham.

A couple of weeks ago in downtown Durham, next to the Durham Bull, the parents of five-month-old Theo Arango were making all kinds of faces and gestures. They wanted the baby to smile for his first picture with Fabian Williams aka “Diamond Star” Santa Claus. It was a cute scene.

And then all of a sudden, a man blurted out, “Thank you Black Santa!”

It was Theo’s father, Manny Arango. Arango, who is Black, says his enthusiasm is not new. He has always sought out Black Santas, and wanted his son to have the same experience.

“Interestingly enough, when I was a kid, I begged my parents to find a Black Santa, and it took them weeks,” Arango said. “It was a very difficult thing to do. I was born in 1987; this was the 90s.”

Arango says his parents went to several malls looking for a Black Santa. But he didn’t have to search hard for his son.

“So when we found out there were pictures with Black Santa, we were like ah, this is amazing,” Arango said.

Santa events like this are amazing — and possible —because of people like Stafford Braxton, the CEO of “Santas Just Like Me,” out of Huntersville, North Carolina — just outside of Charlotte.

“The Black Santa experience where you can add a little color to your Christmas,” said Braxton.

Braxton is often seen wearing a baseball cap and sweatshirt bearing the name of his company. For almost ten years, he has been searching for authentic Santas that look like him — a Black man, with a great personality, and with a natural, white beard.

Leoneda Inge
Stafford Braxton, CEO of Santas Just Like Me, outside the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham, preparing for a Black Santa event.
Leoneda Inge
Stafford Braxton, CEO of Santas Just Like Me, wearing a company sweatshirt.

His quest started at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh, taking pictures for a white Santa.

“And as I was working, people would keep asking, when were we going to have a Black Santa? And I would jokingly say, you know, 'They ain’t gonna let ya’ll have no Black Santa up in here!'" Braxton says. “Little did I know, I was being prophetic.”

Today, there are six Black Santas who work with “Santas Just Like Me.” Braxton says business is great. He just wrapped up his first event in Virginia, at the Neiman Marcus department store in McLean. He says it was the store’s first Black Santa. They had to add an extra day because of demand.

Braxton says he knows he is on to something.

“When you have a woman that’s 72, 73-years-old that comes to you with tears in her eyes, saying this is the first time she’s ever seen a Black Santa in person, boy you’re talking about warming the cockles of your heart,” Braxton said. “It made me realize I was in the right place at the right time, doing the right thing.”

Helen Kruskamp of Durham and her sons Bennett and David Bowling, raced to see Diamond Star Santa. Kruskamp says she thinks her boys have seen a Santa Claus one other time, for a first Christmas photo. Now the boys are ages 10 and 6 and she didn’t want them to miss seeing a Black Santa.

“And I thought it was so cool to have Santas that are representative and happy to bring my kids” said Kruskamp, who is already planning on bringing her sons next year. “We don’t usually go to see Santa, this is a little out of our normal holiday routine. This seemed like such a special event, we didn’t want to miss it.”

Kruskamp says she wants to raise kids who are people of the world with other people of the world.

“I would think like, generally a white person raising white kids, I want them to have that exposure and understand they’re not the only people around and that Santa can come in all different forms,” Kruskamp said.

Leoneda Inge
Helen Kruskamp and her sons, Bennett and David Bowling, visited Diamond Star Santa in downtown Durham.

Families of several races and cultures lined up to see Santa that day. Three-year-old Penelope Ziefle is white. She had a short meeting with “Diamond Star Santa,” but then made her parents bring her back for a deeper, more personal conversation. Penelope wanted her toy to have a Mommy and Daddy.

“She needs a little Mommy and Daddy? Oh my goodness," Diamond Star Santa told her. "This is such a wonderful thing, that you can care. And that’s good for your heart."

In a soft voice and then a clear voice, Penelope said, “I love you, Santa, Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you very much," Diamond Star Santa said. "Can we get a high five on that!”

Perhaps the color of Santa Claus only matters to adults.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She also is co-host of the podcast Tested and host of the special podcast series, PAULI. Leoneda is the recipient of numerous awards from AP, RTDNA and NABJ. She’s been a reporting fellow in Berlin and Tokyo. You can follow her on Twitter @LeonedaInge.
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