Local photographer Stafford Braxton feels like he’s found his calling — making visits and photos with a Black Santa Claus possible for North Carolina families.
In 2011, Braxton was new to Raleigh and looking for work after leaving his established photography business in Virginia. He saw an ad from Crabtree Valley Mall, which was in need of an assistant manager for their photos with Santa station, and he got the job.
A few customers would ask him if there would ever be a non-white Santa.
“People would come over to me and say, ‘Are you guys gonna ever have a Santa of color?’ And I jokingly said, ‘You know, they’re not gonna let you guys have a Black Santa here,'” Braxton said. “Unfortunately, I was right.”
Braxton approached the mall asking if an event featuring a Black Santa would be possible. It was a good idea, he was told, but there was not follow-up.
“We’re not even trying to take over the chair — just give us a one-time event to let the people know that, hey, we hear you,” Braxton said. “Representation to children is more important than I think we realize, and most of the time, when they see the red suit and the white beard, they don’t really care about color.”
Braxton began his search for a Black Santa — not just any Black Santa, but one with a white beard. It was not an easy search.
“I think it was the Christmas of 2012,” he said. “I was working and my coworker tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey, Stafford, doesn’t that look like a Black Santa?'”
Braxton passed his business card to the man but never heard from him. Then, less than a year later, Braxton was working as a wedding photographer when he saw another Santa look-alike. As it turns out, it was the same man!
This time, the two connected, and Braxton’s business, Santa’s Just Like Me, was established.
The Black Santa, known as “Santa Warren,” appeared for the first time in 2013 at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham. Apart from 2020, events have been held there every year since.
“We see a lot of inter-racial couples, and a lot of them have Black fathers,” Braxton said, remembering one child who wanted to see a Santa who “looked like Daddy.”
Braxton’s dream is to become a nonprofit and receive funding so he can bring a Black Santa to areas that need one.
“Where they can see a Santa that looks like them and not have to charge them for the photographs,” he explained. “That’s really my heart’s cry.”
Braxton recalled when, two years ago, a grandmother came over to him after seeing her daughter and granddaughter pose with Santa Warren.
“She came over with tears, literally in her eyes, saying that she had never seen a Black Santa,” he said. “And she had me crying, and of course I did not let her pay for those pictures,” he said. “There are countless stories like that. Parents that are just so appreciative that we’re doing this, that we’re giving them the opportunity.”
It’s difficult to find a Black Santa Claus, but Braxton said he can see progress, and he hopes North Carolina businesses start to catch on to the idea.
“I think businesses are waking up, you know, and I’m seeing more Black Santa decorations in stores than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It does my heart good to see that.”
Santa Warren will be at the Pope House Museum in Raleigh on Saturday, Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Sunday, Dec. 5 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets are available through the City of Raleigh.
You can also visit Black Santa at the Hayti Heritage Center at 804 Old Fayetteville St. on Dec. 18-19, 22-23 and Christmas Eve.
People can go to santasjustlikeme.com website to request a Black Santa visit at their business or home.