Visitors to the Mall of America will get to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year with the shopping mecca’s first-ever black Santa Claus.
“This is a long time coming,” Landon Luther, co-owner of the mall’s photo studio, Santa Experience, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune of the new Kris Kringle. “We want Santa to be for everyone, period.”
Larry Jefferson, a retired Army veteran, is the first African-American Santa in the Minneapolis megamall’s 24-year history. He was hired after Luther embarked on a national search for a new Kris Kringle last spring and discovered the Mall of America’s latest man in the red suit at a Santa convention in Branson, Missouri. Jefferson was the only black attendee among the 1,000 participants.
“What they see most of the time is this red suit and candy,” Jefferson, who began donning the red costume in 1999, told the paper of the children who line up to sit on his lap. “[Santa represents] a good spirit. I’m just a messenger to bring hope, love and peace to girls and boys.”
The Texas-based Saint Nick signed a four-day contract to work at the nation’s largest mall, which will allow him to head home to Dallas to continue the holiday festivities. Jefferson began his run at the Mall of America on Thursday, December 1, and will be available to greet children, pass out candy canes and take photos until Sunday, December 4. Visits are available by appointment only, and all spaces for this weekend are already booked up.
“It was like finding a needle in a haystack,” said Luther. “He considers himself a Santa for all.”
While Jefferson is in the Twin Cities, Project SPIRIT, an after-school program for black children in St. Paul Public Schools, has tapped him to conduct a meet-and-greet with students.
“Kids only see one image of Santa,” Shanene Herbert, the program’s director, told the Tribune. “Even though he’s a fictional character, he could be any color, any race, any gender. This is an image of him too.”
As Jefferson told Minneapolis’s local CBS station, “I’m still Santa; I just happen to be a Santa of color.”
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