Stafford Braxton, the founder of Santas Just Like Me, dressed as a Black Santa.
Stafford Braxton, the founder of Santas Just Like Me.Getty Images (left, right), courtesy of Stafford Braxton (center)
  • Stafford Braxton is a Black Santa Claus, the founder of Santas Just Like Me, and a photographer.
  • While working at a mall in North Carolina, Braxton heard a lot of requests for Santas of color.
  • That led him to start his business. This is his story, as told to writer Jamie Killin.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Stafford Braxton, a Black Santa Claus, the founder of Santas Just Like Me, and a photographer. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I started Santas Just Like Me because when I was working at a mall in North Carolina as a photographer with a white Santa Claus, we would get a lot of requests for Santas of color. I approached the mall about doing something like this and they said it was a good idea, but that's where they left it, which led me to believe they weren't really interested in providing that service for their clientele.

In 2011, I began my search for a Black Santa. Lo and behold, in 2012, a coworker said: "Stafford, look at that guy, doesn't he look like a Black Santa?" I ran over to the gentleman and handed him a business card, telling him that if he was interested in being Santa, contact me the following January. I never heard anything from him.

Then, I was photographing a wedding the following May. I was one of the only Black gentlemen there, but I noticed there was another man who looked like a Black Santa. After the wedding, I approached the groom and asked him to connect me with the man. I came to find out it was the same guy from the previous December.

We were finally able to connect, and he decided he wanted to work as a Black Santa with me. We've been doing it together for nine years now.

We have a wide range of clients, from Neiman Marcus Tysons Galleria to Jack and Jill of America, Inc. There's also The Pope House Museum in Raleigh, North Carolina, and many churches.

Diversity is very important when it comes to Santa Claus, because there are a lot of families that long for somebody who looks like them to be sitting in that Santa chair. A lot of kids don't get the opportunity to see Santa because the families aren't comfortable with somebody who is not of color taking credit for the gifts their kids get during the Christmas season.

It's not a hatred of white people; it's just that they work hard to provide for their families, and they want to make sure that their children understand that Black people are prosperous.

Representation is also more important to children than I think a lot of people realize, because they see themselves reflected in the images that they behold. 

Most of the little kids see the white beard, the red suit and they're ready to tell Santa what they want for Christmas. They're not as concerned with color as we are, being older. But there are still some who will tell you, "He's not the real Santa because the real Santa is white," so we have a ways to go there.

Sometimes it's even more important for the parents. Because many parents did not have the opportunity to see a Santa of color growing up, they want to provide their children that opportunity.

One time, there was a woman who came to see us at a church in South Charlotte after her daughter and granddaughter had come to be photographed, and the mother posted the images online. When the grandmother saw those images, she made a beeline down to where we were because she'd never seen a Black Santa in person. She was 73 years old. That woman had tears in her eyes, and of course it caused me to cry as well.

I ask the Santas who sign up with me to do at least three pro-bono events throughout the Christmas season, because we don't want everything we do to be focused on money. We need money to run the business, but our hearts are to be a blessing for the families that come to see us every year.

We've been doing this for nine years, and we have had families that have been coming at least eight of those years — maybe even all nine. The parents are so appreciative, and we're blessed to be able to provide this memory.

Of course, our services are important for families of color, but it's also valuable for white families.

Once there was a young man who was 10 years old, and his family wanted him to see that Santa could be something other than white. After getting the parents' permission, I said: "Did you come here because you wanted to come or because your parents made you come?" He said: "No, I wanted to come. I think it's good to have Santas of different hues." He was blessed to have the opportunity to see a different type of Santa.

Another set of white parents had adopted four minority children who had special needs after they'd already had two biological children of their own, and so they would come to us to give their children of color the cultural experience.

Usually, the parents didn't get in the picture. But this particular year, I was the photographer and said, "Come on, you need to get in the picture." The following year, the father was killed tragically. Later, the mother posted the photo that I had taken of their entire family, and she said: "Stafford, now that is our favorite picture." 

It reminds me of why I'm doing what I'm doing. It's because the memories these families will have from doing this will outlive me.

Read the original article on Business Insider