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”You Look Just Like Me”

Celebrity Communities Featured Magazine

”You Look Just Like Me”


Meet Santa Chris, Arkansas’s Black Santa

“I still remember his name, Peyton,” says Chris Kennedy aka “Santa Chris” as he runs his fingers through his white beard and recalls the moment that still impacts him today. In a state of amazement, Peyton said to Santa Chris, “You look just like me.” Then, he pressed his fingers against Chris’ cheek and exclaimed, “You are real!” These are the kind of moments that motivated the 36-year-old Longview native to become Arkansas’s Black Santa. Although he’s not wearing his big red suit and hat for this interview, he does bear a striking resemblance to the fictitious character beloved by both kids and adults alike.

The journey to bring joy to kids like Peyton began a couple of years ago when Chris and his pharmacist wife, Iddy, discovered that Houston was the nearest city they could take their daughter Emily to for a photo with a Black Santa. For North Little Rock residents, that wasn’t acceptable, so Chris did the unimaginable. He rented a Santa suit and took pictures with Emily. It was a success and they had a blast doing it.

 “Literally I started to put into action to become Santa the next year so that families wouldn’t have to drive 10 hours to do it,” he said. 

Chris has realized that people of color, particularly Hispanics, Asians, and Indians are thrilled to see a brown-skinned Santa. “For people of color, they don’t have a problem – it’s the closed-minded people that have the problem,” said Chris. “I believe that when kids see themselves even as fictional characters, it allows their childhood to be preserved even longer.” 

The letter 

Chris first gained notoriety in 2020 when he received a letter in his mailbox from an anonymous neighbor demanding he remove his “negro” inflatable Santa from his front yard. The racist letter went on to claim that Santa is white like him and has been for 600 years. Chris shared his outrage on Facebook Live, “I was so mad I almost stuttered throughout the entire video.” The video went viral. 

People on social media supported his decorations and for some in the community, they put up their own Black Santa displays. Things snowballed, no pun intended, when Chris was featured on an HBO Max documentary about a training camp for future Santas run by the New England Santa Society in New Hampshire. The heartwarming movie follows the journey of several Santas from diverse backgrounds. A touching scene from the movie shows Chris telling the story of the letter. He pulls it out of his pocket and starts to read it to the mostly white Santas seated around the fire. Audible gasps are heard as he reads the hateful words can be heard from those listening intently to Chris. You’ll have to watch it for yourself; it is well worth it

Other Black Santas 

Chris is far from the first Black man to put on the big red suit in Central Arkansas. In the 1970s restaurant owner and community activist Robert “Say” McIntosh was well known as Little Rock’s Black Santa, handing out toys and bikes to needy children. Former Arkansas Gov. David Pryor declared Christmas Eve in 1976 Robert “Say” McIntosh Day. Sadly, McIntosh passed away in 2023 but his wife Doretta Wells McIntosh started a foundation in his name to continue his legacy and vision of helping the community, including a Black Santa Salute scheduled this Christmas season.

 The Greater Little Rock Chapter of Jack and Jill has sponsored a breakfast with Black Santa every December since 2004. The event is held at Martin Luther King (MLK) Elementary School in Little Rock and in the same spirit of McIntosh’s legacy, toys, bikes and books are distributed to kids. The Northwest Arkansas Chapter of Jack and Jill also hosts a Cookie with Santa Claus event in Fayetteville. Jack and Jill is a national organization of mothers whose purpose is to help expose their children to cultural and educational experiences.

 For more than 20 years, Arkansas native Larry Jefferson also played the jolly fictional character. The retired Army captain now living in Dallas, plays Santa at holiday parties, military events, shopping malls, and special functions across the country. He became the first Black Santa ever hired at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., in 2016. Like Santa Chris, he experienced a little bit of backlash about his skin color but he didn’t pay any mind to those “grinches” as he called them. On a recent visit to Little Rock, Chris had a chance to take his daughter’s photo with the legendary Black Santa at Tristan Stewart Visuals in Little Rock. 

Chris has met more than 30 Black Santas through the Facebook community group Santas of Color Coalition, a group that connects Black Santas. The group of Christmas performers conduct monthly Zoom meetings, share tips on booking leads, and basically support each other. As Chris points out, the goal is to ensure “we are providing kids with great experiences.” 

And as for that hateful letter that started it all, well Santa Chris said, “I had to do what was best for me, which was to immediately forgive them and move forward.” 

Clearly, Santa Chris is truly a man of character, just like Santa Claus.

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