Santa Claus is coming to town, and across the country, hundreds of thousands of kids will line up for their chance to sit on the big man’s lap. But roughly three percent of all professional Santas in the United States are African American. That’s disconcerting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that research shows that positive representation of role models — one kids can look at and relate to — can go a long way in helping children have a better self image. Representation, however, is improving with more and more of an effort being put forth to increase the amount of Santas of color. Considering conversations about santa’s race still crop up — Megyn Kelly famously ranted on live television about how Santa Claus was clearly white, despite the fact that he is a fictional character invented by people to keep kids behaving throughout the year — its important.
That’s why we called up Santa Ken, a 77-year-old (377 years-old if you ask him) African-American Santa who spreads cheer in the Delaware area. For this jolly fellow, who is a member of the National Santa group, it’s the most wonderful time of year. The smiling faces, the happy kids, and the chance to spread legitimate joy — and representation — keep him coming back to his Santa suit time and time again. Here, Santa Ken talks to Fatherly about how he took on the suit, providing a positive role model for kids, and how to respond to hate.
So, how long have you been Santa Ken?
I used to work in broadcast radio. About five years ago, just before November, most of the broadcasters were growing beards for prostate cancer month. That’s how I started growing my natural beard. The closer it got to Thanksgiving, my family, said ‘you can not cut that off. You’re going to be Santa Claus.’ I have been Santa Claus ever since.
Did you just start with local gigs? How did you get involved in the big time?
The first few times, I did it for my family. That same year I was the Santa for the Christmas tree lighting in Westbury on Long Island. I rode in the fire truck. I was commissioner of the fire department. Then, one of the local churches said, ‘We need a Santa Claus for our tree lighting.’ I ended up going over, in the fire truck, to this other church. I did their Christmas tree lighting. Two weeks later, I was in a community center with about 80 kids and their Santa Claus. They had a Christmas party with the Nassau County Police Department. They were doing the thing for needy kids.
The following year, I did the same events, and in between those years, I went to the National Santa School. It’s called the International University of Santa Schools. I got my first diploma in Santa there. They have an agency called the National Santas and I started getting bookings through them.
We [santas] are all over the world; the color we come in is a chameleon. We come in love.
So it snowballed into a bigger thing from a small thing.
Good choice of words: ‘snowballed.’
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